Building Healthy Universities and Colleges

University and College Health and Wellness Summit


"Healthy students made better decisions, they carry a deeper focus and have something they are committed to. The investment is worth every penny. If you want to retain students, keep them healthy." Dr. Glenn F. Boyce, Commissioner of Higher Education
"Wellness promotion on campuses is a step in the right direction. That's the solution being realized by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. We appreciate the Foundation and what it is doing [for Mississippians]." Dr. Andrea Mayfield, Executive Director, Mississippi Community College Board

Supporting our state’s colleges and universities in their efforts to create healthy campus cultures is part of the overarching vision of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The Foundation hosted leaders from 23 of the state’s universities and colleges at the 2016 University and College Health and Wellness Best Practices Summit to share their successes in creating health and wellness programs for students, faculty, staff and the community as part of the Foundation’s University and College Health and Wellness Model.

The University and College Health and Wellness Model is designed to serve as a roadmap for the development of health and wellness cultures that extend from the campuses into the surrounding communities and schools. The Foundation encourages the top levels of leadership at Mississippi’s universities and colleges to adopt health and wellness as part of their leadership vision and mission.

Dr. Glenn F. Boyce, Commissioner of Higher Education, made welcoming remarks at the Summit and fully supports wellness programs in the colleges and universities, noting the measurable impact health has on academic performance. “Healthy students make better decisions, they carry a deeper focus and have something they are committed to,” he said. “The investment is worth every penny. If you want to retain students, keep them healthy.”

Representatives from the universities and colleges implementing the Foundation’s model were on hand to share their best practices, with a focus on successes achieved in improving the health of Mississippians.

Dr. William F. Bynum, Jr., President of Mississippi Valley State University, has been a staunch advocate of the Valley in Motion program, citing his own personal health results as one of many motivating factors. “This has been outstanding for us,” he said. “I’ve lost over 30 pounds and I see more people walking on campus and more activity since the addition of the walking trails. This is the legacy I want to leave at Mississippi Valley State University.”

The University of Mississippi is in the second phase of its highly popular and successful initiative, RebelWell. Some highlights of the program include fitness classes, health expos, and special events featuring Athletic Director Ross Bjork on the university campus, Fresh Fruit Fridays and Walking Wednesdays at local elementary schools, and “Pop-Ups” free fitness classes in the Oxford community.

“The RebelWell initiative has started to truly transform the culture on our campus,” said Dr. Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of Mississippi. “Numerous faculty, staff and students have engaged in programs and walked away more aware and, better yet, inspired! The momentum on campus has also started to impact the community as our local schools and community members are engaging in RebelWell and adopting healthier habits.” Dr. Hephner LaBanc also commented, “During the Summit, it was great to hear what other campuses are doing to impact their community. By sharing our ideas and strategies, we help each other work toward improving fitness levels, nutrition choices and overall wellness behavior of our faculty, staff, students and communities.”

Many of the state’s community colleges have wellness programs that rival those of the larger four-year public universities, including Pearl River Community College. The Wildcat Wellness Initiative is in its second phase and boasts a youth summer camp, a campus bike share program, fun runs, cooking demonstrations and a host of other activities.

Jones County Junior College is finding that communication is key for participation and engagement. “The most important thing we did was to get the right people in the right place,” said Mike Cole, Director, Office of External Funding and Accreditation at Jones County Junior College. “This was including marketing representatives on our committee.” He said this allowed for steady and constant communication. Jones County’s program, Next Steps, already had the foundation for a wellness program including a walking track and smoke-free policy. The grant funding from the Foundation allowed for innovative activities and community events like a Kids’ College with cooking classes, 5K community events and even a Halloween event featuring fun, games and fresh fruit rather than candy.

Mississippi College is one of the private colleges making wellness an integral part of campus culture with its Wellness for Life initiative. “These programs are changing our culture,” said Dr. Bill Townsend, Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Legal Counsel to the President. “The most obvious cultural change has been the cessation of smoking by our students. The Clinton community, schools and area churches have embraced our wellness emphasis – those participating from the community in these programs are impacted as much as campus participants.”

Dr. Andrea Mayfield, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board said that wellness promotion on campuses is a step in the right direction. “That’s the solution being realized by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation,” she said. “We appreciate the Foundation and what it is doing (for Mississippians.)”

“I was absolutely blown away with the quality health-related initiatives that are happening in our universities and community colleges,” said Dr. Robert Z. Carr, Dean and Professor at Alcorn State University. “I learned about excellent practices that should be incorporated in our own health, physical education and recreation department. I have attended many conferences and professional workshops in my day, and the Summit was up there with some of the best.”

“The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation supports our state’s colleges and universities in their efforts to make wellness a priority,” said Sheila Grogan, Executive Director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. “We’re excited by the continued progress as they develop innovative programs, tools and resources to serve the students, faculty, staff and the community.”



Dr. Glenn F. Boyce (pictured left) and Dr. Andrea Mayfield (pictured right) join Sheila Grogan, Executive Director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, for the University and College Health and Wellness Best Practices Summit.


Dr. William B. Bynum, Jr., President of Mississippi Valley State University, collaborates with colleagues at the Summit.


Representing the University of Mississippi at the Summit, Dr. Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs (pictured left), and Andrea Jekabsons, Assistant Director of Employment, Development, and Engagement, display RebelWell artwork as an example of co-branding with the Foundation.


Summit attendees engage with Dr. Tara Rouse, Wellness Director at Pearl River Community College, as she presents best practices of the Wildcat Wellness initiative in partnership with the Foundation.