Perfecting a Perk

Two students stand in front of a projection screen in a meeting room

AAA Washington gets help from BC students to improve its employee Health & Wellness program

Retirement. Health insurance. Paid time off. Maternity and paternity leave. Wellness?

What started out as an employee perk at many large corporations has become common among businesses of all sizes. Done well, health and wellness programs offer employees the incentives, tools and support to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle habits that not only benefit the employee, but the company’s bottom line.

But who’s training the wellness experts?

“I learned health promotion skills by ‘doing’ as I went, on the job—coordinating employee wellness programs before it became a defined career pathway,” said Amy Swanson, MPH, Bellevue College’s Health & Wellness program chair. “So, when I look at our program, I can see how it would have prepared me to do all things I was never formally taught to do.”

Students enrolled in the Health & Wellness program (formerly Health Promotion Management) learn the ins and outs of health promotion and disease prevention at the community, individual and institutional levels. Courses span chronic disease, health promotion, nutrition, exercise science, environmental health, and stress management to develop effective health and wellness programming.

While coursework is certainly crucial to understanding all that the term “wellness” can encompass, hands-on training is critical in learning how to assess organizational culture and implement real, lasting change.

Enter AAA Washington.

AAA Washington benefits manager Kathryn Rothberg reached out to Swanson to see if she had students who could present information on back health and ergonomics for their annual employee benefits fair. Swanson was also looking for employers to partner with for the Health & Wellness Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) class capstone. AAA Washington, like many companies, house “employee wellness” under human resources. Swanson thought her students could offer valuable input to the company, and get real-world experience in return. Rothberg readily agreed.

“Kathryn was incredibly excited about the partnership and bringing new ideas to AAA. This made us a good fit to not only educate but to give them a usable plan,” said Swanson.

Students lead a wellness exercise where everyone puts a hand on their headStudents navigated all the components of what goes into employee wellness programs—with a real company in real time. The experience gave them the chance to examine the environmental, physical, financial, and social wellness strengths and gaps for a thriving company. Swanson said AAA Washington was generous with their time and honest with their vision and obstacles, something that helped make the experience very real for students.

“Textbooks and lectures only go so far when you want students to move beyond statistical data to apply theoretical concepts,” said Swanson. “We were incredibly lucky Kathryn was open and willing to pilot this project. Without her, the students would not have this opportunity to learn and grow.”

The students met and interviewed Rothberg, attended an on-site presentation at AAA headquarters to learn the results of their culture survey, and evaluated the wellness space. Students then produced written and oral proposals exploring AAA’s wellness offerings, researched the effectiveness of their worksite wellness, and presented specific recommendations on ways to improve their employee wellness offerings.

Rothberg said the company has already realized many benefits from the partnership. “We were able to provide the students with an actual employer case study (located just minutes away), and we’ve been exposed to their wealth of great ideas, access to statistics, proven wellness practices and ideas on employee surveys.”

Two BC students demonstrate a wellness exercise to a group in a meeting roomAfter the capstone presentation on June 18 (which included a demonstration of how to do stretches at the board table), Kirk Nelson, AAA Washington CEO & President, noted that, “We really appreciated the thoughtful plan the BC students put together for AAA Washington. It was great to learn that we’re providing a great employee benefits package that contributes to their wellness, and we learned a lot about where we can go from here. It was a very useful exercise for both AAA and BC.”

“In a world of confusing health information, we want our graduates to be analytical and research-based, but also thoughtful and creative” she said. “It was amazing to see the students in action.”




Last Updated June 28, 2019