Success Story

Martin Luther College

Creating a climate and culture of wellness


At Martin Luther College (MLC) in New Ulm, it’s clear that faculty, staff and students all share the Heart of New Ulm’s passion for a healthy community. There’s a focus on the future and on helping to spread the principles of wellness not only to just the campus and community, but beyond those borders as well.
Professor John Gronholz, chairman of MLC’s physical education division and also chairman of its wellness committee, explained, “The U.S. government has mandated that all public schools have wellness policies. We feel strongly that when our students graduate from MLC, we want them to be able to go out into our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod schools and be champions of wellness programs as well. Especially our physical education majors, since it’s very likely these students will be the leaders in establishing a wellness program at their school. We feel very strongly about trying to model a climate and culture of wellness that our students can take out to the people they serve.”
At MLC’s fitness center, a student puts her tracking watch on a computer docking station, which downloads information on her physical activity for each week or month. The frequency of a student’s physical activity determines their grade for this particular class, which every MLC student is required to take.
As the ministerial education school for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, all of MLC’s 700 students are headed toward service in the ministry, including careers as pastors, early childhood educators, staff ministers or licensed teacher educators. Across the country, the Synod operates 337 elementary schools, approximately 400 early childhood centers, 23 high schools and two prep schools.
To begin its wellness journey, the MLC administration approved the development of a wellness committee in the winter of 2009, about the same time that the Heart of New Ulm Project was starting up. After developing a mission statement and goals, MLC successfully secured two years of grant funding for their wellness initiatives through their insurance carrier.
Their mission is “to support existing campus wellness efforts and to promote initiatives that educate and encourage individuals and groups to adopt and implement principles and practice of a healthy lifestyle.”
Maximizing resources with the Heart of New Ulm’s help
From the beginning, Gronholz and the committee found the Heart of New Ulm Project to be an excellent partner in providing resources and support. After a wellness kickoff event, MLC served as the pilot site for the Heart of New Ulm’s community screenings in 2009. They screened more than 200 staff and faculty and followed up several months later with a screening for students that attracted approximately120 participants.
Following the screenings, MLC offered a “Know Your Numbers” presentation by the Heart of New Ulm staff that explained what their various screening results meant. They now regularly host lunch-and-learns on a variety of health topics presented by staff from the Heart of New Ulm, the New Ulm Medical Center and also their faculty and food service staff. Gronholz said their wellness programming initially centered on faculty, staff and spouses, but that they continue to expand their efforts to involve the student body.
The college’s wide variety of activities have also included a walking seminar, a 21-day challenge titled “Stay Fit and Eat Right While Traveling,” sponsorship of the Herman Victory Run in both 2009 and 2010, yoga classes for faculty and staff and participating in several Heart of New Ulm Community Summits. They’ve also developed their own monthly challenge program, which has included a team walk/run as well as challenges to add extra exercise each day and achieve seven hours of sleep each night. The committee publishes a calendar each month and teams turn in their tracking documentation for each challenge to the fitness center. Prizes are awarded for groups that achieve the most success.
Gronholz said, “The Heart of New Ulm has given us information that helps people make good choices; they are a ready source of resources and people with expertise. This allows us to maximize our grant money and supplement our learning opportunities and activities with things they are already doing in the community. We work together very closely, but also try to work somewhat independently. We get the monthly fliers from the Heart of New Ulm announcing all of the events going on and we share those with our faculty, staff and students.”
Creating a climate and culture of wellness
In partnership with the Heart of New Ulm and the Chamber of Commerce, the MLC wellness committee examined Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy. The book by researcher Dee Edington shows how organizations can manage escalating health care costs while keeping their workforces healthy and productive. MLC is working toward achieving the key principles the book promotes, one of which is to create a climate and culture of wellness in the worksite. In first establishing a strong climate for wellness, the hope is that the culture will follow.
One area where they’ve already made notable climate change is in the campus cafeteria. In working with the Heart of New Ulm staff, they evaluated their food offerings and opened a heart-healthy line for lunch, which Gronholz said has received a very good response. In addition, every Monday they feature a healthy snack of the week. The cafeteria also prominently features a large poster that educates diners on what a plate should look like for a healthy meal, showing proper portion size and a variety of colorful foods.
Before the December 2010 holiday break, MLC worked with Kwik Trip to reinforce the healthy snacking message by handing out free travel snack bags to students filed with granola bars, water, trail mix, apples and coupons.
In addition to the cafeteria changes, MLC is now looking at climate changes around tobacco. While all of the campus buildings are already tobacco-free, Gronholz said they have directed a lot of energy during the 2010-11 school year toward trying to establish a tobacco-free campus. With the help of the American Lung Association and the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Program, they’ve drafted a tobacco-free policy and are taking steps toward implementation.
To assess how well the college is doing overall in creating a healthy climate, MLC worked with worksite lead Holly Glaubitz from the Heart of New Ulm Project to participate in the Wellness at Work Health Audit in early 2011. Their next step will be to examine the audit results and determine areas for improvement and action.
Looking to the future
As they look forward to hosting their next round of heart health screenings in September 2011, Gronholz summed up, “The Heart of New Ulm project is simply the right thing to do. It’s coming from the right people — the health providers. The expertise that they make available to the community and the programs they develop are outstanding. We realize wellness is our campus responsibility first, but frankly, I don't know that we would be as far along as we are if we did not have the overarching influence of the Heart of New Ulm.”
From the Heart of New Ulm Project’s perspective, we’re equally thankful to have MLC as a strong role model. As future MLC graduates head out to lead the next generation, we know they’ll be encouraging our youth to adopt lifelong healthy behaviors early and help reduce the prevalence of heart disease nationwide.