Annelise O'Donnell


Choosing Wellness, a required course offered each semester at University Campus, teaches students just that—how to make choices for wellness. The course was developed by Dr. Joanne Crossman (pictured), professor of education, who is entering her 30th year of teaching in higher education.

Dr. Crossman found her way to Saint Leo University after about 23 years of teaching education and research at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. Intrigued by Saint Leo for a number of reasons, she most loved that it is a teaching institution that focuses on students, active learning, and creating a realistic and utilitarian curriculum.

When interviewing at Saint Leo, she was asked to teach the existing two-credit version of the course. Seeing lots of potential and an opportunity to put her passion for curriculum development to work, she was encouraged by Dr. Candace Roberts, then chair of the Education Department, to re-create the course. Dr. Crossman developed it into a three-credit course, primarily meant for freshmen and sophomore students, that provides a comprehensive understanding of the physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and interpersonal aspects of wellness.

Now in its fifth year, the course emphasizes the view of the body as a process rather than an object, as well as the importance of taking ownership of and responsibility for individual health. Students come to understand that the choices they make now can affect their health in the future, such as mitigating diseases that run in their families.

“There’s so much choice in the course,” explained Dr. Crossman. “When a student says, ‘I have to do this anyway so let me do something I care about,’ that’s when the class matters.”

Students typically see the course’s relevance as they mature. Dr. Crossman hears from former students who have made connections and applied what they learned in the course to their own lives, or who have engaged their family and friends with what they’ve taken from the curriculum.

“The growth comes from students recognizing that they know themselves best, what might motivate or hinder them, and then being willing to implement strategies for a more healthful lifestyle,” Dr. Crossman said. “Through the development of SMART* goals and holding themselves accountable for working toward or achieving those goals, students realize that they can’t fool themselves when it comes to their improved health.”

Dr. Crossman shared that she has noticed the impacts of the course around campus in students eating more healthfully and discovering fun ways to stay active. Additionally, she told the story of a former student informing her that he had recognized his own anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) because of symptoms he learned about in Choosing Wellness, and knew to seek immediate help.

Going beyond health and nutrition, Choosing Wellness courses are all attended once by a representative from Green Dot, a Saint Leo-affiliated program aimed at ending personal violence. Dr. Crossman hopes that introducing students to causes such as Green Dot will feed their passions and encourage them to become “health ambassadors.”

In the future, she hopes to help students identify health problems on campus and give them the opportunity to create mini-campaigns as a class project. Another future goal is to develop a course dedicated to women’s health, delving into confidence, image, and physiology.

*SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-limited.