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Mind, Body, Books: A Healthful Balance

By Eric Sean Weld

Smith College's strong academic tradition and its reputation for intellectual excellence may be the foremost and initial attraction for the young scholars who want to attend college here. But the healthy Smith student will not thrive on books and research alone.

"At Smith, our academics are so strong, so important and such a large part of student life. That's why students come here," says Maureen Mahoney, dean of the college. "But that cannot be all there is to being a Smith student. We believe that needs to be balanced by other life activities. We need to be teaching how you live a life, how you maintain a balanced life in terms of fitness, diet and relaxation alongside intellectual activity."

There are many extracurricular options at Smith that complement students' academic activities and contribute to a healthful, balanced lifestyle. Among them are:

The recently opened Olin Fitness Center with its 40 cardiovascular exercise machines, multiple sets of weights and ample space for stretching

A new Campus Center with a café, game room, lounge and 56,000 square feet of space designed for relaxing, socializing and academic downtime activities

Dozens of programs and workshops offered through Health Services that promote mental balance, well-being, stress management and higher productivity

Dietary options in house dining halls that encourage healthful eating

Connie Peterson, who has served at Smith for 17 years as the coordinator of health education in Health Services, agrees on the need for varied activities in the student's life. "Something I would like students to leave with [when they graduate] is balance in their lives, to work hard but to take care of their bodies, to take time for friends, to take time for fun. "

The new Olin Fitness Center (above), constructed between Ainsworth and Scott gymnasiums, offers the Smith community a spacious, light-filled exercise area with state-of-the-art fitness equipment (below right). The center connects the third floors of both gyms and overlooks reconfigured space that is now a lounge area (below left).

Peterson emphasizes that point through some of the 30 workshops she devises each semester to address issues of interest to students. Her workshops deal with topics such as alleviating stress during examination periods; practicing safe walking habits, especially around heavy-traffic areas like Elm Street; fostering a healthy body image; nutrition; sex education; time management; and alcohol use. Among her other initiatives, the most successful has been the Quit-Smoking Kit to assist students in kicking the cigarette habit; she has given out about 50 kits so far this year.

"We offer a lot of resources for students," she says. "We offer more than most other schools. We want people here to incorporate the knowledge they get from our sessions into their behavior."

A new state-of-the-art addition to Smith resources that promotes a balanced student lifestyle is the Olin Fitness Center. This facility, between Scott and Ainsworth gymnasiums, opened to the campus community in early January and will be dedicated officially on February 20. The building and its sophisticated exercise equipment were funded by a $4 million gift from the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Foundation in honor of Barbara Olin Taylor '54 and Judy Olin Higgins '58.

A fitness center became the top priority of the Department of Athletics as a result of the college's 1996 self-study to assess its long-range needs. For recruitment purposes and to encourage students to be more active, Smith needed a high-quality fitness facility with ample, comfortable space, high-tech equipment and effective programming, says Lynn Oberbillig, director of athletics.


Stefanie Renaud '06

As an athlete who played softball and volleyball in high school and plays fall softball at Smith, Renaud works out regularly at Ainsworth Gym and looks forward to using the Olin Fitness Center. Besides lifting weights three times a week, she keeps her heart in shape with cardiovascular exercises on the elliptical machines at the gym and by playing squash at the Ainsworth courts. She prefers to stay in good physical condition, she says, because of the energy she gains from it. "I like being able to do stuff, like going for a two-mile run, or playing sports. It's nice to be able to walk upstairs without passing out," quips Renaud, who lives on the third floor of Ziskind House.

Renaud says she plans to maintain her physical condition after Smith by playing sports in adult leagues. "I'm hoping to stay in shape for the rest of my life," she says. At Smith, Renaud has found ample opportunities for healthful living, she explains, such as the campus exercise facilities and various dietary options in the house dining rooms. "You can get just about everything you need at Smith," she says, of the fitness options -- indoor and outdoor running tracks and tennis courts, free weights and weight machines and satellite gyms across the campus, as well as vegan and vegetarian dishes. "If people want it, they can get it here."


Photo by Gregory Cherin




Danielle Ricciardi '06

For Ricciardi, a sophomore from Rindge, New Hampshire, who balances her interest in gymnastics with her crowded academic schedule, staying physically fit is essential for maintaining mental health. "I've been active as long as I can remember," she notes. "Exercise helps me clear my brain. It keeps me healthy and it keeps me sane. I always feel better afterward." Ricciardi spends several hours, three or four days each week, working the rings and bars at Hampshire Gymnastics in Amherst and works out regularly at Smith as well, lifting free weights and raising her heart rate on the cross-training machines. Now she works as a trained monitor at the Olin Fitness Center and plans to use the new facility and its roomful of exercise machines to continue her good health habits. Next year, Ricciardi will spend her junior year studying in Italy, and though she hopes to stay in shape there, she doesn't expect the health accommodations to be on par with those at Smith. "It's great here," she says of the campus, "we have everything we need to stay healthy."


Photo by Gregory Cherin




"We wanted the fitness center to be a showcase," she recalls. "We want to use it as a recruiting tool. My biggest dream would be to change the culture here, to create a place in which it is part of the culture to be physically fit and mentally energetic, to maintain good eating habits and physical activity in balance with the academic life and social life that are now given aspects of being a student at Smith College. And it's all tied to fitness."

Equally important in the effort to balance students' lives for optimum health and productivity is the Campus Center, which opened in August next to John M. Greene Hall. The center -- which, in addition to its café and game and TV rooms, includes plenty of open areas with comfortable seating for lounging, the Grécourt Bookshop, a large performance space, several meeting rooms and the mailroom -- is designed to offer something for everyone on campus, according to Dawn Mays-Floyd, director. With more than a thousand events scheduled there this year, including many social and recreational programs for students, "the Campus Center is really a space for the entire community," she notes. "Where else is there on campus for everyone to come together formally and informally?"

"The Campus Center is an important addition to the college's balanced approach," explains Mahoney, "to provide a place in which students can relax, socialize and pursue other interests in balance with intellectual activities. Being well rested and enjoying student life at Smith must accompany the rigorous academic routine."

The student diet is another essential component. During the past four years the college's dining services department has made an effort to offer dishes and meals that accommodate the health needs and tastes of the students who eat in campus dining rooms, says Kathy Zieja, director of dining services.

"I think there has been a real effort here to respond to students' requests for more healthy options in the house dining rooms," Zieja says. "There's been a concentration this year to make sure there is a salad bar at every lunch and dinner, with mixed greens and ample vegetables. I think students have seen some good changes, more protein options like beans and soy products. There's a healthy balance, better variety. This is all a response to student requests."

All the college's efforts to provide opportunities for good health along with strong academics are on par with Smith's peer institutions, observes Mahoney. Wellesley College, for example, is currently constructing a multimillion-dollar fitness complex, and many colleges have altered their dining menus to foster healthful diets.

"We want our students to take full advantage of the richness of activities available here," Mahoney says. "If the stress of academics gets too high, then our mission won't stand up.

Many students appreciate the college's efforts to promote healthful lifestyles. According to Oberbillig, more than a thousand students take part in fitness-related courses offered by the exercise and sport studies department each year -- a good proportion of the student body.

"I think that Smith's options for staying healthy are pretty great," acknowledges Kathryn Horton '04, a member of the ski team who frequently uses the fitness facilities. "The new facilities are awesome. If I were looking at the school now and toured the new fitness center I might be swayed to come here. Also, Health Services' counseling is a great resource to have on campus. It is so important to have such a resource so close by for people who might need to see someone."

Aida Manu '05, who serves as one of five student health representatives in Quad houses, believes that the college places a high priority on informing students of health-related issues in their interest. "I think the college has done a lot to keep students informed about how to be healthy," she says, including a steady distribution of articles and statistics in house common spaces and the availability of Health Services sessions. In her first year, Manu remembers, she found such information particularly helpful. "It's important just to let students know the information is out there, it's available."

Of course, a strong academic focus will always be central to Smith's mission. But thanks to the college's efforts, students here will continue to have ample opportunities to take care of their minds and bodies and enjoy their lives at Smith beyond their academic pursuits. "We have a student body that is serious about intellectual activity," notes Mahoney. "But we have an obligation to pay attention to the full range of life activities."


Joshua Miller
Professor, Smith College School for Social Work

Yoga calms, running de-stresses, lifting weights strengthens. It's all part of a decision that Professor Joshua Miller made 30 years ago -- to exercise every day. And the routine has sustained him through a social work career, often working in the area of crisis management in such places as England, Ireland and post-Sept. 11 New York -- and now in an energetic academic career. His regimen has paid off. "I'm much calmer, I sleep well, I don't get sick much, I don't get morose," says Miller, who is also chair of the social policy sequence. Several times a week he swims or runs, strength trains and attends noon-hour yoga classes. The yoga classes have led to an interest in Buddhism; both disciplines in turn have enhanced his work with students and clients. "It has deepened my capacity for being nonjudgmental, calm and present in the moment." And what about the days when it just seems too difficult -- or cold or rainy -- to get to the gym for a workout? "I always push myself to get there anyway," Miller says with a smile. "And 98 percent of the time I feel a whole lot better afterwards. "


Photo by Gregory Cherin




Valerie Schumacher
Student Employment/Fund Coordinator, Student Financial Services Office

It used to be that Valerie Schumacher got very little exercise outside her noon-hour walk to Northampton's downtown restaurants to pick up a cheeseburger or a burrito for lunch. But despite the time away from her desk and from her demanding workload, she never felt relaxed, even after a walk. She decided to try running after noticing that a co-worker took daily runs on her lunch hour. "I did it initially," she says, "to relieve some stress and to calm myself down." It worked. Now some eight years later, Schumacher has run the 26-mile Boston Marathon twice, quit smoking and become so addicted to a lunchtime workout that she misses it like an old friend when it doesn't happen. In addition to lifting weights two times a week in the Ainsworth Gym weight room, she runs regularly -- outside on the Smith athletic fields or nearby trails when the weather permits and inside on a treadmill when it doesn't. "It's a great way to spend an hour during the day," Schumacher says. "I hope I'm still doing this when I'm 80 years old."


Photo by Gregory Cherin



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