April 21, 2016

Record-setting Attendance at 2016 Student Wellness Retreat

More than 600 people attended the 2016 SUNY Empire State College Student Wellness Retreat, an increase of more than 140 percent compared to the 250 who attended the 2013 retreat, the first year it was offered by the college.

The retreat is part of the college’s overall efforts to address student health and wellness.

Research has shown that adult students – the average age of a SUNY Empire undergraduate student is 35 and the average age of a graduate student is 40 – leave college for a variety of reasons, and among the most significant are personal and family health issues.

The retreat program is paid for by the student health fee and a limited number of grants for travel and lodging, also supported by the fee, are available to students.

“We should take advantage of anything our school gives us,” said Robyn McGee, an undergraduate student who is studying Community and Human Services on Long Island. “I think the wellness retreat is a great thing, especially considering the diversity of our student body. A lot of us need a little more help than other people might realize and you cannot help anybody if you are not helping yourself. So, it is very important that our college gives us this, because we cannot do it on our own.”

McGee worked for 17 years in housing for the mentally ill and learned about SUNY Empire when trying to provide education opportunities for her residents. She then realized the college would fit her life too, “And, I said, ‘oh, I can make my own schedule. I can work around this and I can work around that. I am getting everything I need’,” she said.

Today she is a full-time mom and a full-time student.

This year’s retreat took place from Thursday-Saturday, April 14-16, at the Hilton Albany.

Thursday included opportunities for students to earn CPR certification, tour the state Capitol and participate in a Wii fit challenge, fatal vision goggle obstacle course, Fit3D body scan, bingo and many other activities.

The featured speaker, an Emmy Award-winning actress, comedian and heart-attack survivor, Tracey Conway, set the stage for the retreat.

Thursday was capped off by a performance by illusionist Joseph Réohm that evening.

Friday featured concurrent sessions focusing on tai chi, yoga, eating healthy on a budget, financial wellness for a lifetime, transforming stress into action, early detection and preventative health care and many other topics.

The keynote speaker, Christopher Powell, took the stage immediately after lunch. That evening, a trivia contest was followed by a live DJ.

Saturday’s health fair featured more than 30 vendors, some of whom offered free screenings in biometrics, pulmonary function, skin damage, bone density, as well as vision tests, reflexology and more.

Professional massages, a caricature artist, healthy snacks, a nutrition awareness station and more were available during the health fair.

“I loved it, there was so much to see and do and it is all very interesting,” said Wendy Zimmer, who is studying sociology in Rochester. “We danced and there were a lot of people out there just having a good time. I enjoyed the speakers too, they were very interesting and motivating. Participating in the wellness retreat reminded me to make better choices in my life, because I do get pretty stressed out.”

Zimmer, recently divorced with two children, works as an aide in a middle school and places international exchange students with families on a part-time basis. She said she wants to advance her career, but feels shut out of opportunities without a bachelor’s.

“I am hoping to teach adults English as a second language,” said Zimmer. “That is my goal.”

This year’s keynote speaker was Christopher Powell, the trainer and transformation specialist on ABC’s highly rated documentary style series “Extreme Weight Loss.”

Powell’s overall message to SUNY Empire students focused on their ability to change and transform all aspects of their lives, not just their weight and physical health.

“Chris Powell was really, really powerful,” said Robert James, a Business, Management and Economics student, who will graduate with a bachelor’s this spring. “He talked to us about the inner strength we have, a strength that we do not even know we possess, and that really struck a nerve in me.”

James, a nurse at a health clinic in Harlem, plans on pursuing an MBA in Global Leadership with the college. He says that he is experiencing a mid-life crisis and may want to change careers, or advance his career in healthcare.

Toneisha Colson, who is studying sociology in Community and Human Services, first attended college 20 years ago and then stopped out because a daughter passed away. She also had to care for her other children. Today, her two sons are attending other SUNY schools. “Life happened,” she said. “One daughter is 15 and I said, ‘Well, I am going back to school and finish my degree next year.’ So I love this school, the community feeling about it and they care about their students, they really do.”

The retreat programs and activities were designed to address the needs of adults as they manage their physical, mental and emotional health during their time at the college.

“I will say that the struggle of isolation is real in an adult-learning community like ours,” said Krista Gallup, a Business, Management and Economics student, learning in the Capital District.  “Having these events, and other things, that help make connections is so powerful. It is fuel for the journey when you are trying to get something huge done. Check a big box off in life, you know?”

“As adult learners, we typically cram a lot of things (into life), like work responsibilities, school responsibilities, family responsibilities and there comes a point where you usually cast aside any and all (of the things you would do for yourself) and that is really misguided,” said Gallup.

Gallup works at the Capital District YMCA as the membership service manager at the Guilderland branch. She earned an associate from Schenectady County Community College, which she said transferred very easily to SUNY Empire.

Gallup said her experience at the wellness retreat provided her with useful, practical knowledge she can take with her to her workplace and that also will help with her overall life.

Other students attending the retreat also talked about the importance of their academic journey to their education, career and life goals.

“My hope is that I accomplish getting my master’s degree in public affairs,” said graduate student Shurlene Aberdeen, who earned her associate and bachelor’s from SUNY Empire and works as a clerk for the Village of Freeport, N.Y.

Aberdeen said she feels underemployed in her current position, but after getting laid off as a marketing manager several years ago, she took the position in order to take care of her family.

“I love to interact with the public,” said Aberdeen. “I am great in public service and I believe that with my master’s degree, I will be able to secure a position, hopefully in the SUNY family, and, if not, in the public or nonprofit sector, where I can use all my education and my experience.”

In addition to Aberdeen, Colson, Gallup, James, McGee and Zimmer, many other students praised the college’s staff for what they said was an outstanding retreat. Many expressed their appreciation for Andy Binder, the college’s community outreach and events coordinator, who was responsible for the overall planning, organization and management of all retreats since 2013. Binder recently moved to SUNY System Administration in Albany, where he will work in the system student affairs office.

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