When Melissa Jackson, an administrative support specialist, became a wellness champion at NC State, she thought all she would do is motivate colleagues to engage in physical activities.
Jackson encouraged coworkers in the Department of English to participate in 3-mile races before the Employee Wellness Champions program started, making her the department’s de facto physical fitness advocate. She said she thought joining the university’s program would allow her to be the official advocate.
“I remember hearing about it and just thinking that it would be great to be able to do these things but in a more official capacity and with more resources,” Jackson said.
But Jackson said after she joined the program, she learned its definition of wellness was much broader than she’d thought.
Jackson is one of 120 staff and faculty members who participate in the Employee Wellness Champions program. These wellness champions work to create a holistic culture of wellness in their colleges, units and departments. They promote NC State’s six elements of wellness — purpose, physical, financial, emotional, social and community — and activities related to each one.
To become a wellness champion, faculty and staff must meet the program’s criteria, which includes completing a mandatory training session. The program’s coordinators help employees get started as wellness champions.
Wellness champions disseminate information about the university’s wellness programs to their colleagues and organize wellness training sessions and activities. They promote wellness in many ways, including arranging walking challenges, setting up yoga sessions and facilitating discussions about good financial habits.
“Our wellness champions have a passion for promoting a culture of well-being at NC State,” said Britt Hurst, NC State’s Employee Recognition and Wellness Program manager. “They are not necessarily wellness experts, but they are highly engaged in this program. They want to make a difference in their departments.”
Hurst said the wellness champions are making a difference at NC State.
“This program is a fantastic grassroots effort that is helping NC State build a culture of wellness,” she said. “We are seeing departments that were not previously engaged in well-being folding wellness into the framework of their departments’ cultures.
“Our champions are creating a conversation around holistic well-being to include discussions around financial and emotional well-being, which is so exciting to see.”
A Passion for Running
Jackson was passionate about wellness before becoming a wellness champion, but her focus was on one thing: running.
Her love for running was ignited in 2008 when she watched runners cross the finish line at the New York City Marathon.
“That was the most inspiring thing that I have ever seen in my life,” she said. “It turned me into a long-distance runner.”
Before that, Jackson hated running, she said. But in 2010, she became one of the inspirational runners who crossed the New York marathon finish line.
Since Jackson came to work at NC State six years ago, she has been encouraging co-workers to be more active. Her efforts have resulted in colleagues joining her in running one to four 3-mile races a year and in North Carolina’s Miles for Wellness walking challenge.
But Jackson said when she became a wellness champion, she went from only promoting physical activity to championing other areas of wellness.
She said she has set up a class on overall wellness and has arranged for a room in her building to be transformed into a serene place where she and her colleagues can relax. Jackson said she also posted signs about nutrition and the benefits of standing and taking the stairs.
In 2017, Jackson received the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Award for Excellence, in part for her work as a wellness champion. She said winning the award made her feel like her efforts to promote a culture of wellness at NC State were appreciated.
For Leressa Suber, an evaluation coordinator in Industry Expansion Solutions at NC State, being a wellness champion has meant getting her co-workers involved in a variety of wellness activities.
“I really like the idea of wellness in the workplace,” said Suber, a certified personal trainer. “It helps us stay active, productive and engaged.”
Suber said she and her colleagues have done everything from participating in step challenges to sharing opportunities for professional development.
But she said the most fulfilling activity they have participated in has been community service projects. She said the team has helped build Habitat for Humanity houses and volunteered at the JC Raulston Arboretum.
“I think that it’s really generous of NC State to offer the opportunity for us to interact with the community,” Suber said. “It really helps you to grow socially and also helps with team building.”
Tammy Rodda, an administrative support specialist, is the wellness champion for DELTA and has helped organize a mix of wellness-oriented activities.
Some of the events have been creative, like when a dog trainer was invited to talk to DELTA employees. Rodda said the session was informative, but it also had a social aspect because it gave employees a chance to gather and talk about their pets.
DELTA employees also have participated in a kickboxing demonstration, entered a walking challenge, played disc golf and did yoga.
Rodda said she thinks the wellness activities have boosted employee morale at DELTA.
“I see a good change in DELTA,” she said. “We want to make it a friendly place to work. You are not just coming to work. You get to relax and share what you know. My opinion is that our focus on wellness has been good for us because it has been a constant and ongoing program that benefits us all.”