Ten years ago, the Health & Wellness Promotion Program, or HWP for short, was in its infancy at UNC Asheville, with a handful of majors and a few dedicated faculty who had a dream to expand their impact – across campus, around the state and throughout the nation. In 2016, the program has grown to more than 100 declared majors each year, seven full-time faculty members, and a state-of-the art facility that’s part classroom, part colosseum, with numerous labs and fitness facilities where students and the community focus on their health.
On Sept. 1, 2016, the founding faculty gathered with students, staff and alumni to celebrate a decade of accomplishments and share a healthy meal.
“The reason we are here is thanks to the vision and energy of Dr. Keith Ray and his sidekick for some 30 years, Elise Henshaw (program assistant for the department),” said Professor Amy Lanou, now the department chair. “We built the building, program and culture of health and wellness on our campus, and we promote and support it throughout Western North Carolina and the state through the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness and our talented alumni.”
Both the major and the center found a home at UNC Asheville thanks to the work of Ray and building namesake, Wilma M. Sherrill, who led the charge in the N.C. General Assembly to secure a $35 million state appropriation for the facility.
“We had the right people at the right time, and I’m truly grateful for our work together,” said Ray, who is now retired but still active. “Many questioned if a small liberal arts university would have this kind of impact, but it must come from this place. It’s interdisciplinary, and our graduates have the broad perspective needed to address complex social problems…. We believe that UNC Asheville could and can become the model for the nation to make sure that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.”
Several graduates shared how their choices, through the program and careers, are now making an impact, specifically across the focus areas of children’s health, employee wellness, and the well-being of older adults.
“Health relates to everything, and you can connect it to everything else here on campus,” said Stephen Hussey ’09, who pursued chiropractic school and earned a master’s in nutrition following his degree in health and wellness. He now works as a health coach and chiropractor.
Stephanie Stewart ’13 said, “UNC Asheville was a gem right in my backyard.” The Asheville native, who returned to school for a bachelor’s degree, parlayed an internship into a full-time job, now serving as the aging program specialist with the Area Agency on Aging for the Land of Sky Regional Council.
“This program saved my life,” said Kevin Rumley ‘13, a combat-wounded veteran who came to UNC Asheville to take the next step in his life, after learning to walk again. “It’s truly transformational and opened doors to a world that I knew well but didn’t have the tools to deal with.” Rumley, who is pursuing a master’s in social work, now serves as a substance-abuse counselor.
It total, the program has graduated 384 professionals.
“You’ve contributed to the field and contributed important community connections,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant. “This group came together to transform the university and you are still making a difference in the quality of all of our lives. Together, we can build healthier, stronger communities.”
To learn more about the academic Department of Health and Wellness, visit https://hwp.unca.edu/.
To learn more about UNC Asheville’s impact across the state, visit the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness at https://ncchw.unca.edu/.