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Outdoor photo of 7 staff members who support U Benefits, including 4 benefits specialists, receptionist, supervisor, and Ruth Rounds, director of the UPlan Wellness Initiative (second from left).

University Benefits Service Center staff includes four full-time benefit specialists, who answer calls from U locations across the state. Front row, left to right: Mayrinda Phimmavong, UPlan Wellness Initiative director Ruth Rounds, Lori Theis, Katie Theis. Back row: Janet Cohen, receptionist Roberta Schwenke, supervisor Kathy Pouliot.

Supporting a healthier work environment

Behind the scenes at the UPlan Wellness Initiative

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, June 2, 2004

First came the pedometers, then the log books. University employees are getting ready for Trek Across the U, the eight-week walking challenge that will give faculty and staff an opportunity to take advantage of Minnesota summer.

"We're really just encouraging people to be active," says Ruth Rounds, UPlan Wellness Initiative director. "If you love to bike, you can get your 'steps' in by converting your biking time--or whatever it is you like to do."

June 14 is the deadline to sign up to take part in Trek Across the U, individually or as part of a team. Right now, staff are finding out what their baselines are and how their pedometers work.

Faculty and staff information

UPlan Wellness Initiative

612-626-9355 (-WELL)
888-422-9355 (-WELL)

More pedometers for family and friends who are not U employees are available at U bookstores for $5.

But what if your pedometer doesn't work? Or the written directions don't make sense to you? That's when you write or e-mail the UPlan Wellness lines (see box).

The University Benefits Service Center deals with the whole spectrum of benefits, from health insurance to retirement, for close to 20,000 U employees and retirees across the state.

Right now, of course, a lot of calls are coming in about Trek Across the U.

About those pedometers: If yours doesn't work and the warranty covers the problem, the staff can get you a new one.

Community and a sense of place

Trek Across the U has goals beyond personal fitness. It seeks to build a sense of community among staff members, as well as consciousness of the places we work.

The log book contains a written tour of places around Minnesota where University teaching, research, and outreach happens. Week One begins with a description of the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. Following weeks move to Duluth, Crookston, Morris, Rochester, and back to the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis, with virtual stops in research and outreach centers around the state. By summer's end, U trekkers will have learned more about the physical environment of the entire U and how it connects to the state.

"When we're talking about health care costs, we're all in it together," says Rounds. "The metaphorical journey was to give a sense, from the beginning of the Wellness Initiative, that if we work and support each other, we can have a healthier workplace and help each other to be healthy."

The Wellness Initiative started not long after the University of Minnesota decided to become independent of other state employees in contracting for health insurance.

Trek Across the U--
a metaphorical walk around Minnesota

Week 1
- Twin Cities campus in St. Paul

Week 2 - Becker - Sand Plain Research Farm; Bethel - Cedar Creek Natural History Area; Duluth campus

Week 3 - Cloquet Forestry Center; Tower - Soudan Underground Laboratory; Grand Rapids - North Central Research and Outreach Center; Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station

Week 4 - Crookston campus and the nearby Northwest Research and Outreach Center

Week 5 - Morris campus and the nearby West Central Research and Outreach Center

Week 6 - Lamberton and Waseca - Southwest and Southern research and outreach centers; Austin - Hormel Institute

Week 7 - Rochester campus; Rosemount Research and Outreach Center; Chanhassen - Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Week 8 - Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis

Ideas for actual walks you can take on the U's various campuses are also being prepared. Watch for them on the Wellness Initiative Web site.

Have fun with it

Rounds is encouraging work groups to put their own mark on the trek.

"I've said, 'If your work group comes up with a unique twist that would work well with the trek, go for it," she says. "We've set the foundation here, but you can have fun with it and add to it."

Employees with disabilities are invited to participate in the ways that they can, says Rounds. The Rec Center on the Twin Cities campus is involved in supporting staff members, and individual support can be provided if needed.

Three levels

Rounds works on three levels: University-wide, ensuring that wellness efforts are inclusive of everyone; on the work-group level, whether an entire academic unit or a smaller team; and on the individual level. Her background is in counseling psychology, so, she says, "I tend to look at the individual and what their needs are first, and how the health and wellness resources and services as well as a workplace can support positive health."

She came to the UPlan Wellness Initiative from Fairview-University Medical Center. She also started a wellness initiative at the University of St. Thomas. She's well aware of the trend toward "total health management," in higher education but also many industries.

"The University realizes people are in different places," Rounds says. "This is a program to enhance the overall health of the individual, if this is the right time for them. But it can also help create a healthier work environment that supports our individual health in times that are stressful, with budget reductions and all of the different challenges that are going on."


Look for Healthy Generations, a publication of the School of Public Health, and other resources by clicking on "Wellness Resources" on the UPlan Wellness Initiative Web site at

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