As the meaning of wellness evolves to meet an increasingly complex world, Wharton is embracing integrative initiatives to improve the health of its student population. Led by Wharton staff and faculty, and with the spirited involvement of several alumni, the School now offers a suite of innovative wellness programs. “We are taking a multi-pronged approach and are intentionally thoughtful about student needs,” says Jen Murphy, executive director of the Undergraduate Division. “This is not throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks. It’s a holistic strategy for improving wellness opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and equipping them with tools that will lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes throughout the rest of their lives.”
A Mix of Old and New
While the School maintains programs to support students at all its academic levels, it also works with Wellness at Penn to create additional opportunities for addressing physical wellness and mental health, reflecting on the relationship between resilience and success, and focusing on personal or academic goals. Wellness at Penn provides around-the-clock services through Student Health and Counseling, which has a team of clinicians who are accessible via phone or in person. Wharton also has a dedicated SHC counselor who is available either remotely or in person five days a week.
In addition, the Undergraduate Division maintains the largely student-run Wharton Wellness to create meaningful in-person connections, foster a culture of well-being, and forge community. For example, it hosts one of the year’s most popular events, “Fitness Before Finals,” with a variety of free fitness classes at local studios for students who need a physical break from the pressures of exam season.
In the spirit of supplementing SHC services, the Undergraduate Division is also launching a new partnership this semester with Headspace Health, a wellness company providing proactive mental and emotional well-being with an emphasis on self-care resources and text-based behavioral health coaching. The partnership will allow students to chat 24/7 with a live coach within two minutes for in-the-moment support, or through regularly scheduled sessions. Murphy explains, “It’s important for our students to have access to a one-on-one coach, someone they can connect with to process stress-related concerns, especially as it relates to their grades and careers.”
Bespoke Support for MBAs
The MBA community also has access to exclusive services that are tailored to meet its specific needs. Eddie Banks-Crosson, director of MBA Student Life, explains the intent behind Wharton’s renewed focus on graduate health resources: “To get better, we need to acknowledge that none of these initiatives will be perfect every time — thus, our approach to student wellness needs to also be constantly evolving. We’re post-pandemic, the world has changed, and we would be naive to assume that what worked for our students 10 years ago is what would or should be working for them now. We’re pivoting where we need to pivot, and we’re reassessing when we need to reassess.”
To help members of the MBA community navigate the complex challenges in their personal, professional, and academic lives, Wharton is utilizing two groundbreaking services, each created by Wharton alumni. Jonathan Saltzburg WG07 is committed to supporting students struggling with substance use disorders. After serving on two college admissions committees, including at Wharton, he encountered prospective and current students who struggled with how to communicate about their recovery or sobriety in high-pressure academic settings. That led him to launch Recovery EDU, an organization that aids students with academic planning while they are engaged in treatment. Now, after his company was acquired by Caron Treatment Centers, Saltzburg and Caron work with Wharton to improve student health in a safe, judgment-free way. “The more we can do to embrace vulnerability and encourage people to get the help they need, the more we can really reduce this stigma,” Saltzburg says. With the expertise offered by Caron, any MBA student struggling with a substance use disorder can receive confidential, professional support.
“What impressed me about Jonathan is that he’s very authentic about steering the Wharton MBA community in a direction where students feel like they have adequate resources and support,” Banks-Crosson says. “No student, Wharton or otherwise, should feel like they are alone in whatever challenge they have. We must work collectively to destigmatize asking for help. We want our students to understand that Wharton is here for them, wherever they are in their respective wellness journeys.”
The second alumni-founded, MBA-focused wellness initiative is led by Maria Halpern W03, founder of Mula Health. After serving as Wharton’s director of student engagement in MBA Career Management for nearly seven years, Halpern established Mula Health, which offers a variety of professional coaching and wellness opportunities. Bolstered by Halpern’s depth of knowledge with the Wharton MBA student experience, the School partnered with Mula Health to create a unique program for career and mental wellness guidance. “With the one-on-one coaching Wharton now offers, we give MBA students the right tools and practices and knowledge to mitigate an individual’s triggers for stress and anxiety, helping them make choices and take next best steps in a way that isn’t sacrificing their overall well-being,” Halpern says.
When she founded her company, Halpern found inspiration in the years she spent in Wharton’s career coaching office and the student mental health challenges she witnessed firsthand. Her expertise is also informed by being an alumna. “As a Wharton student, I myself struggled with the high-pressure environment, and it’s something to which I can relate,” she says.
Students can sign up for one-on-one well-being coaching sessions, which are facilitated by Halpern. “One of the most important things we help students with is staying true to their calling and mission,” says Halpern. “We know that the more connected you are to your strengths and the impact you want to make, the more likely you are to thrive personally and professionally.”
Through this deep understanding of the struggles students face, Saltzburg and Halpern reflect Wharton’s overall approach to integrative wellness on every level. “It’s incredibly powerful for Jonathan and Maria, who both know the MBA program intimately, to say, ‘Here were my challenges, here’s what I observed, and I know this stuff still exists,’” Banks-Crosson says. “Having their perspectives, plus their connections to campus, is helpful as we seek to steer the community to a place where Wharton students — undergraduates and MBAs alike — feel they have adequate resources and support, whatever challenges they are facing.”
Published as “Wellness in Bloom” in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Wharton Magazine.