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Jackie Recktenwald sees her role in student success as one of collaboration and education. As the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural director of well-being initiatives, she believes creating student success demands equipping students with all the right tools.
Working on Wellness
Recktenwald’s position is part of the college’s larger division Wellness at Penn Public Health and Well-Being—which, as implied in its name, has two pillars: clinical health and health and well-being. Her responsibilities include education, outreach and collaboration with other university groups to promote public health and well-being.
“I see my role as being really collaborative. I don’t think anyone can do this work by themselves,” she says.
Recktenwald works alongside colleagues who provide services for spirituality and religion, residential life systems, and career services to capture all kinds of student well-being.
“How [Wellness at Penn] defines wellness isn’t just about mental health. We look at it as the integration of competing demands,” Recktenwald explains.
Student success, to Recktenwald, is all-encompassing. “I really ground my work and my team’s work in that larger socioecological model.” While Recktenwald’s team cannot control students’ precollege experiences, the aim is to promote healthy behaviors among students. She looks at staff policy and wellness access as ways to build safe and healthy communities.
Penn’s students are subject to the same challenges and concerns that most college students in the U.S. face—anxiety, sleep deprivation and poor nutrition, among others.
The division looks to target the eight domains of wellness: physical, intellectual, environmental, financial, occupational, social, emotional and spiritual. While mental health is a common concern for students, there may be other entry points, like career concerns.
As a doctoral student herself at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, Recktenwald knows the University of Pennsylvania student body is successful and very capable, so she sees her job as providing additional tools for success and refining those tools for student needs.
Prior to this role, Recktenwald worked in Penn’s Title IX office and most recently in the Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs Programs Initiatives. Continuing her work in drug and alcohol support, Recktenwald assists in the new SUPER—substance use prevention education and recovery—initiative.
“This is an area I know a lot about and care a lot about,” she says, because “none of these are issues [students] deal with on their own.”
Wellness at Penn is partnering with the university’s Positive Psychology Center to launch a new resilience program, thanks to donor funding. The new initiative will target building optimism among the community.
For her, student feedback is the primary demonstrator of successful programming and initiatives as loving students is “incumbent” to work in higher education, Recktenwald says.
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