Announcements Well-Being

Wellness Champion Spotlight: Lara Jennings

Lara Jennings,
Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS)

This month’s spotlight is on Lara Jennings, a Wellness Champion since May 2019. Lara supports her teammates by being a compassionate listener and connecting her workgroup with Wellness Connection resources. She fosters a community of well-being in her department by sending “Virtual Sunshine Committee” monthly emails, sharing her own wellness journey, and encouraging others to share their stories. She’s also participating in the Human Centered Design approach to personalizing wellness for her unique work setting, and is an integral member of the Champion Leadership group.

Tell us about some things you’ve done as a Wellness Champion to help create a culture of wellness in your department.

As a Champion, I’m most effective when my role is visible and accessible in the office. I’ve asked our Assistant Vice Chancellor for five minutes during monthly staff meetings to provide wellness updates. I also use my champion email signature on emails with colleagues and introduce myself and my role to new team members.

I’m participating in the Champion approach to Human Centered Design by interviewing and surveying people in my department on their needs, thoughts, interests, and preferences to guide how I could best support them in this role. Through this approach, I learned that the department as a whole prefers to receive information via a physical space (the bulletin board wellness corner), as opposed to more emails. They also really wanted to learn about and collaborate with each other on their own wellness goals but had concerns about time constraints during the workday. I used their feedback to create a plan. Some of these initiatives have included:

  1. Monthly Email: At the beginning of each month, I send out one email to share updates, announcements, and our Wellness Champion Spotlight. Everything else goes on the bulletin board.
  2. Wellness Champion Spotlight: Each month a different team member can volunteer to be in the spotlight. This person shares what wellness means to them, what they’ve been working on, and what tip they want to share with us. This allows for conversations and collaboration throughout the month, without the need for scheduled meetings to get together, which reduces time commitments.
  3. Wellness Corner: This has been put on hold while we’re all working from home, but when we were in the office, anyone could put something small to share in the designated area. I used this space as a way to provide activities and information that align within the 8IGHT Ways to Wellness, such as:
    1. Pop-up Destress Zone – where we had essential oils and puffballs for staff to make a “mini-spa” experience to help promote relaxation, to coincide with the 5th way to wellness.
    2. Finger Mazes – team members could use the finger mazes (printed out free from Google and reused for sustainability) when they wanted a couple of minutes to practice mindfulness, in keeping with the 5th way to wellness.
    3. Volunteer Sign Up Days -to bring in a healthy snack to share for the office, in line with the 4th way to wellness.
    4. Know Your Numbers campaign – by advertising wellness screening options and offering up body tape measures and measurement charts to privately track and record one’s measurements, if so desired, in keeping with the 3rd way to wellness.

What motivates you to volunteer as a Wellness Champion?

There are several motivating factors in my decision to volunteer as a Wellness Champion. I think the most compelling has been the support from department leadership, reinforcement from my colleagues, and my personal belief that by being a W.C. in my department I am impacting small changes that contribute to and helps shape the overall wellness culture across WashU.

Are there any unique aspects of your department that affect your role as Wellness Champion?

I feel it is very rewarding to be the Wellness Champion of the OISS because of how motivated and supportive my fellow colleagues have been and continue to be. We are a department of about 15 to 20 team members, which I think makes it more realistic/possible to be hands-on in different ways than if I was serving as a Champion reaching out to 100 or more of my colleagues. As a team, we have been able to learn a lot from each other about what wellness means to each other and who is doing/trying what. My Wellness Champion role allows me to be the point person to facilitate/prioritize wellness initiatives for the department.

How has COVID-19 affected your role as a Champion?

Like most departments, our office moved to 100% work from home, and many of our routines this spring were disrupted. When I say disrupted, what I really mean is my role as the Wellness Champion was non-existent. I was out sick from early March through the end of April and it took a good 3 weeks or so before transitioning back into my W.C. role. But, to my surprise and appreciation, I found that during my leave my colleagues had stepped up and continued some of the things that I would have done as the W.C. This felt like a major testament to how much these initiatives are valued around the office.

Since May, I have been able to maintain more of a consistent presence as the Wellness Champion and am happy that I had a supporting team to keep things going while I was out (even though it looked much different). This helped me see how the tone we set as Champions is important and meaningful to those around us.

During this time of COVID, I have noticed a bigger shift in the department focusing on social, emotional, and mental wellness. COVID is teaching us to be okay with what are able to do and not able to do. Our office had 3 teams participate in the Work of Art Activity Challenge this year and it was a very well timed activity.

Lara, thank you for being a wellness leader in your department and for all of the great work you’re doing as part of the Champion leadership group!

If you’d like to learn more about the Wellness Connection Champion network, check out our website: