Kinesiology and Facilities partnership aims to improve workers’ wellness and connect staff with students

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Mireya Arellano works her last shift of the week in Stearns Hall. Friday, April 3, 2020. Kathy Ou/The Occidental

The Community Health and Fitness Research team is looking for interested students to join their Staff Wellness Project: a program that serves Occidental’s cleaning staff by organizing health and fitness workshops three days a week. According to an email sent to the student body, the research team is looking to continue their muscular fitness and flexibility program and is looking for student volunteers to help with implementation.

The Staff Wellness Project was founded in 2015 as a collaboration between Dr. Marcella Raney of the kinesiology department, a group of student researchers and the Human Resources department. The project focuses on developing exercises for alleviating injuries caused by repetitive use that are common in labor intensive jobs, and seeks to improve staff health.

As a professor in the kinesiology department, Dr. Raney felt compelled to facilitate student research, as well as staff wellness.

“We researched literature on potential worksite wellness interventions and workshops that had been developed in the past and created a research plan where we worked directly with the facilities department,” Dr. Raney said. “We’ve had great relationships with facilities to help set aside their time at the beginning of their work shifts.”

Erin Kim (senior) is one of the lead student researchers on the Student Wellness Project team, and works to ensure the program’s success and consistency.

“This is a progressive wellness program, which means we increase the difficulty level and intensity of the exercises each week,” Kim said. “The interventions are led by student researchers like myself.”

As a volunteer, she said she regularly wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to arrive on time to the first stretch session, which starts at 4:00 a.m., when the staff begin their shifts.

The Staff Wellness Project has worked to make the fitness sessions as inclusive as possible, offering stretch classes and wellness newsletters in Spanish, the native language of some facilities workers. According to Kim, students meet with staff on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to conduct a 15-minute stretch routine which includes music and dancing.

“It was so fun to see them dancing in the morning and that gets us pumped too,” Kim said.

In order to ensure the program would be able to take place, Kim and other student researchers had to work with the facilities manager to allot time for the intervention.

“We wanted to ask the facilities manager if this intervention could be included in their paid work hours, for the first 15 minutes after they clock in for their shift. Time is an issue and money is an issue. Sometimes people have to prioritize money over their personal health. That is a very real problem,” Kim said.

In their email, the Community Health and Fitness Research team highlighted the particular need for students proficient or fluent in Spanish. According to Kim, language barriers often appear in health care fields, so having Spanish speakers volunteer was key to the project’s success.

“One thing I realized while working on this project is that the Staff Wellness Project was able to run smoothly because we have Spanish speaking students who were willing to help us out with communicating to staff,” Kim said.

According to Kim’s fellow researcher Sarah Ng (senior), mass emails were sent out to the Latinx Student Union (LSU) and the Spanish department in an effort to gain interest, specifically from Spanish speakers.

“From those blast emails we received a lot of interest from first years,” Ng said. “We have two first years who just joined the team who are going to be our translators.”

According to Kim, the Wellness Project has also allowed students involved to connect with staff members outside of the exercise sessions, fostering community on campus.

“The staff got so excited. They see us and greet us whenever we run into them during the day,” Kim said. “And that is so fun.”

According to Dr. Raney, the program has benefitted students as well, allowing them to engage in a unique community-building opportunity while gaining hands on experience within the field of kinesiology.

“We collected their flexibility assessments. We charted pre and post assessments, collecting flexibility measurements before they started the program and after,” Dr. Raney said. “This allows students to apply what they’ve learned with regards to anatomy, biomechanics, health promotions, exercise prescription.”

According to Dr. Raney, the program has expanded its reach beyond on-campus research since its founding. In 2019, Dr. Raney and a group of students published an article based on their findings while running the wellness intervention classes. The article is published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, and shares the information discovered while running the Wellness Program.

“I worked with the students that were part of the program in 2019 to publish the study,” Dr. Raney said. “We have continued to evolve the work that we’re doing with the cleaning staff, [and] the student team members have worked on more ways to expand in the last few years.”

In the spring of 2022, two new initiatives were put into place to ensure the longevity of the program. According to Kim, the students developed a Peer Leader Program within the staff groups. This initiative assigns a group leader from the staff to encourage peers to continue physical activity and stretching regimens. Kim said the second initiative, which focuses on teaching exercises that will decrease musculoskeletal pain, has been emphasized.

“People would tell us, ‘It really helped decrease my shoulder pain.’ It is so rewarding to see the staff actually benefiting from the program,” Kim said.

As a student researcher, Ng is working to build longevity in the program by releasing a monthly wellness newsletter. The newsletter includes nutrition and general wellness information, and is printed out every week for staff to take home and read.

“Those newsletters are delivered in English and Spanish,” Ng said. “This further provides the staff with resources and tips for healthy living.”

Ng said that while the project is hard work, her experience as a researcher has been really rewarding and it has been extra sweet to get to know the staff and recognize all of their hard work.

“You get to know people, and they are grateful that you’re helping them out,” Kim said. “We can see tangible results.”

Contact Olivia Correia at ocorreia@oxy.edu.