USC pilots new course about health and wellness

Former USG Director of Wellness Affairs and alumna Marina Hrovat and Vice President Blake Ackerman attended the new wellness course during the first week of classes. (Kevin Fohrer | Daily Trojan)

USC is piloting a one-unit course that aims to advise students on wellness practices and encourage healthy living. The course was created by members of the Undergraduate Student Government, the Provost’s office and the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

OT 299, “THRIVE: Foundations of Well-Being,” teaches students a variety of wellness skills, from stress management techniques to tips for making friends in college. While the course will be geared toward first-year students in the future, it is currently being introduced to all students.

The class will feature TED talk-style lectures from faculty guest speakers who offer expert opinion in each week’s topic, followed by a Q&A session. During the discussion portion of the class, professors and students will have the opportunity to talk [keep] incorporating those skills into their daily lives.

USG Vice President Blake Ackerman said he has been determined to create a course on student wellness since his freshman year. During his IFC training, he completed courses in consent and alcohol education, which he wanted to share with others. Ackerman decided to take action by planning and designing the course curriculum alongside USG peers and USC professors. This fall, he was able to make his dream a reality.

Ackerman said one of his favorite course topics is perception of success. He said the course will teach students to redefine their perceptions of success upon entering USC; the competitiveness of the school’s environment can cause some students to feel insecure about their accomplishments. This skewed success measurement is more relevant than ever with the University’s acceptance rate dropping to a record-low 13 percent for the latest class.

“It’s clear that USC wants to continue that trend and make USC even more competitive to get into,” Ackerman said. “We want [students] to know that there are going to be times when they fail [and] there are going to be times when things don’t go their way.”

Alumna and former USG Director of Wellness Affairs Marina Hrovat also helped advocate for and develop the course. According to Hrovat, after meeting with peers and administrators throughout the 2017-18 academic year, she and Ackerman determined that students need education on topics like wellness, alcohol consumption and bystander culture outside of online models such as AlcoholEdu, an interactive online course that USC students are required to take during their first year.

Hrovat felt students needed more opportunities to learn about stress management and self-care, in addition to skills not typically taught in academia. She hopes this course will educate all students on these skills so they can have a better experience during and after college.

“High schools aren’t setting you up to think about certain things like how to be an active bystander or self care habits [and] personal well-being,” Hrovat said. “At USC, we live in such a competitive, rigorous academic culture that students are really stretched pretty thin and suffer as a result of it.”

Professor Ashley Uyeshiro Simon helped create the course and will also be leading it. She wants to teach students life skills like time management interactively by including games and activities during discussion sections.

After receiving feedback from students in Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 pilot courses, Uyeshiro Simon and other course designers will alter the class to better suit students’ needs. They are aiming to finalize the course by Fall 2019. In the future, Simon hopes the class will be mandatory for freshmen as she believes it teaches important skills that can benefit anyone.

“Every single upperclassman and every single faculty and staff member who we tell about this course, they all say the same thing,” Simon said. “They all say, ‘God I wish I had taken a course like that,’ because I don’t think it’s a skill that people learn really readily … yet it’s completely vital to being [healthy] for the rest of your life because it gives you some good foundational skills.”

Ackerman said he hopes the course will teach students to value each other earlier in their college careers so they can create a caring campus community that embodies the values of the Trojan Family.

“This is a course that you can ask questions in that you probably don’t get to ask in a lot of other courses,” Ackerman said. “You can be vulnerable if you want to be, and it’ll be established as a safe space for students to really speak on what they want.”