exercise science class

Embracing a holistic approach to health & wellness

By Emma Deans

Outside the classroom window, blustery weather tugs the yellow and orange leaves from the maple trees. While the harvest season and holidays like Thanksgiving typically prompt reflection on the hardships that many people face, Dr. Karen Croteau is teaching students how to think about this every day. “We often don’t realize that just who we are gives us certain advantages,” says Dr. Croteau to her Health Promotion and Organization class. She clicks through a PowerPoint presentation during a morning lecture in Alfond Hall, walking around the room as she explains health complexities on both micro and macro levels. “Health disparities are unfair differences in equity, and the circumstances we are born into are social determinants of health,” she says to students.

Photo caption: From the Alfond Center to the new Athletics Complex, Saint Joseph’s College offers numerous facilities for students to exercise and to study the science of exercise. Photo: Tonee Harbert.

The twelve students open their laptops and scroll through the CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report, analyzing statistics about birth rates, high-risk occupations, and binge drinking. They then watch a video about two men raised in very different households—one home with a stable income, the other home subsisting below the poverty level. In a follow-up discussion, one student observes the direct correlation between economic inequality and poor health. “He’s coping with stress through alcohol and cigarettes,” she says.

Health and Wellness Promotion professor Dr. Karen CroteauThe students in this class are enrolled in the Health and Wellness Promotion major, added to the College in the 2013-14 school year. Dr. Croteau teaches in this program alongside Suellen Chaplin-Beckett, who previously taught in Saint Joseph’s nursing program. The new major offers a holistic curriculum spanning areas of physical, social, and emotional well-being for individuals and for communities. It prepares graduates for a range of careers in public health, corporate wellness, or clinical work, and can provide an alternative for nursing students who realize they would like to pursue a different aspect of healthcare. Students can also enroll in a Pre-Occupational Therapy track, which sets them on the path to graduate school.

Dr. Croteau oversees wellness internships and guides students in Health Promotion and Organization through a campus-wide health survey project. “Underlying factors can impact people even if their economic conditions improve. Factors like gender, disabilities, and the social construct of race affect the overall quality of life,” she explains. “That’s why it’s important to create community needs assessments and intervention plans.”

Photo caption: Dr. Croteau teaches in both the College’s Health and Wellness Promotion program and the Fitness Specialist Track for Exercise Science. She is a Co-Principal Investigator on a research grant to study Myers-Briggs Extraversion-Introversion dichotomy and students’ preferences for classroom teaching and participation methods. Photo: Emma Deans.