Nebraska Methodist College prides itself on its Health Promotion Management degree, the latest iteration of a program that dates back decades and is one of the most respected such Master's degrees in the country.
But we wouldn’t be on the cutting edge without exceptional individuals who are willing to put forth the effort it takes to keep such a program on the map. That’s where Kara Meisinger, MPH, MCHES, comes in.
For Kara, being the director of the online HPM program isn’t enough. Her goal is to transform the way that the college itself approaches wellness, and this proactive organizational approach recently paid off, with Kara receiving two prestigious awards for her work at NMC.
The first, the Governor’s Wellness Award, is bestowed upon those programs which have been able to attain demonstrable results for the wellbeing of their employees. The second, the WELLCOM Light of Wellness award, was given to Kara personally for her unwavering drive to promote not just physical wellbeing, but wellbeing of all kinds among students, faculty and staff.
I sat down with Kara to get some insight into these awards and what she views as the state of wellness culture within Nebraska Methodist College.
A Shift in Thinking
One of the accomplishments that Kara is most proud of is changing the perception of wellness within NMC.
“People think it’s only about the physical,” said Kara. “The nutrition, the physical activity, stress management, things like that. In our program we really emphasize that you have to also build the culture of your organization to support a healthier wellbeing and lifestyle. I think it’s that culture piece that makes us unique.”
Kara has taken wellness in this direction both within Nebraska Methodist College and out in the world via the Health Promotion Management program.
“The easy part of the programming is the physical health because people get that. ‘I need to lose so much weight’ or ‘I should really be walking around instead of sitting at my desk all day.’ That’s easy for people to understand.”
The culture shift is a little more difficult, and even Kara admits it’s a work in progress. Weight loss competitions and yoga have been successful because of the immediate, visible results. On Kara’s radar, though, are things that are slightly further-reaching.
Kara described some of the initiatives in various stages of development, like providing employees with regular breaks where they are encouraged to do something that benefits their wellness. That could mean taking the NMC walking trail, but it could also mean pursuing a project that they're truly passionate about and that they find fulfillment in.
Kara has also developed plans for healthy vending options and walking meetings and has been hosting college-wide learning sessions that focus on everything from team-building to leadership training to managing stress and finances.
A Program That Thrives
Whenever the recent awards are brought up, Kara is quick to attribute them to the efforts of an entire team of people at the college. She points out that the rebranding of the college’s wellness committee, also known as Thrive, has been a boon to wellness.
It becomes clear when discussing the Governor’s Award and particularly the Light of Wellness award that Kara would rather have the spotlight be on her efforts rather than her. But there’s no getting around the fact that NMC’s wellness programming wouldn’t be what it is today without Kara leading the charge. She’s usually the one who nominates individuals for the Light of Wellness award, but this year, things worked a little differently.
“This year when I sat down and said what our nominee list was, they (the nominating committee) all looked at me and said ‘well, we have someone else in mind…’
“I was taken aback because I don’t feel like it’s a job. I don’t need to be recognized. They said they wanted to nominate me and have me be the recipient on behalf of the college this year for my leadership in bringing our wellness programming to the next level, rebranding our efforts and really trying to bring it out and embed it in the student culture too.”
Kara recently accepted the Light of Wellness award at the Hilton downtown, and you can view the presentation that accompanied the event here.
The Past Informs the Future
Kara continues a proud tradition of wellness at NMC, as evident from a story she’s fond of telling.
“When I first interviewed for my job, I showed up at the front desk and the gal sitting at the desk said, ‘Okay you need to go upstairs. The stairs are right there or you could also take the elevator.’
“Just the fact that she pointed out the stairs to me first, in my mind being a wellness-type person it was like: Oh that’s so simple! And it’s free and it completely sends a message to anybody who walks through your doors that we promote taking the stairs. It can be simple things like that.
“When I walked in the doors I felt that this place was different, and I still hear from employees that have recently been hired that there’s something special about this place that you can’t put your finger on. There’s an energy.
“I think it’s something that’s embedded from our history years and years ago and it’s just like a fire that keeps passing along to the new people that come onboard…I don’t think a lot of organizations have that history and that fire.”
Wellness culture at NMC is truly thriving, and we have no doubt it will get even better under Kara’s watch. Congratulations on your well-deserved accolades, and keep fighting the good fight for wellness at NMC.