Successful Wellness Courses Gain New Topics

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

Tai-Chi and Nature Treatment have been added to the UA academic catalog for students to take as a part of the Wellness Initiative.

The eight-week, one-credit-hour courses will help students “focus on disengaging from technology and focusing in the present moment,” said Ed Mink, assistant professor and director of wellness and health promotion at the Pat Walker Health Center.

Ed Mink, assistant professor and director of wellness and health promotion at the Pat Walker Health Center. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

Of the 16 courses already available to students, Mink said students reported a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression. Unprompted, students reported seeing an overall increase in academic performance and GPA as well. More than 70% of surveyed students reported the Wellness course helped with anxiety and stress, according to Mink’s data. More than half reported the course contributed to their academic success.

“From the moment that students set foot on campus, they begin to encounter stressors that they have not previously encountered in their lives,” Mink said. “We know medically as well that overwhelmingly, so many medical diagnoses, psychological diagnoses, have their origin in stress.”

Classes typically average 15 students and fill very fast, Mink said. Upon completion, many students will refer their friends to the course. Because of the low attendance, some senior students reported waiting for years to get into an offered topic.

“It breaks my heart, but we are limited by resources,” Mink said. “It just proves the efficacy of these courses.”

Tai-Chi will encourage students to practice mindful movements of the body. Nature Treatment will introduce the Japanese practice, ShinRin-Yoku, or a forest bathing technique. With all available courses, Mink has asked students to keep journals about their experiences. He has collected 25 years of writings and he uses them as a measuring technique to track the behavioral practice of each specific course.

“Yes, it’s a break from the conventional academics, but once they find out about the value of the classes, that’s why they take them,” Mink said.

Nature Rx, for example, focuses on encouraging students to spend time in nature to develop an appreciation of the natural world, according to the UARK Wellness website. For the first time, the College of Education and Health Professions partnered with University Recreation for the Nature Rx class to “diversify the classroom experience,” said Kenny Williams, coordinator of UREC outdoors. Spending time outside is one of the best ways to stay centered and healthy, Williams said.

The collaboration of the Nature Rx course has included taking students on a nature walk, giving a short lecture about detaching from technology, and Shinrin-Yoku practices.

“Research shows just a five- or 10-minutes walk unplugged from your device, soaking up the woods, can actually physiologically bring down your stress levels,” Williams said.

With the addition of the new courses, Mink said he hopes students will find practices to become more resilient on their own. Instead of healing after an individual is diagnosed with an illness, the Wellness classes encourage building a strong foundation that is less likely to get sick. Getting sick causes students to miss class and “it doesn’t take long to dig an academic hole, but it takes forever to dig out of an academic hole,” Mink said.

Courses can be found by searching PBHL 2101 in UAConnect. 

UA Students Uncertain of How to Pay Student Loans

UA Students Uncertain of How to Pay Student Loans

Some but not all University of Arkansas students have mapped out plans for their future careers and strategies to repay student loans.

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

Lane Murphy, UA senior, has collected around $30,000 in student loan debts for his biology undergraduate degree, and he is just getting started. Murphy plans to attend graduate school, and his student loan total is expected to grow to around $250,000.
With the aspiration to be a surgeon, Murphy is hoping to have his future workplace offer loan forgiveness.
“I have no idea how I would pay without a hospital residency,” Murphy said. “I’m putting a big risk on hoping that the hospital will pay.”
Murphy, 21, is among many U of A students who face considerable uncertainty about how they intend to pay off student loans.

Lane Murphy, UA senior, expects to owe around $250,000 in student loans and hopes to receive loan forgiveness with his future career as a surgeon. Photo by Mary Hennigan.
Carolyn Chitwood, director of career education, provides student resources such as career counseling, coaching and résumé reviews. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

The UA post-graduation employment rate was 64% for the Class of 2017 and student loan debt averaged $21,500, according to UA career data and federal College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education database.
The Career Development Center offers resources such as counseling and résumé reviews for all UA students, but many reported waiting until their later college years to seek help.
“Students should start preparing day one of their freshman year,” said Carolyn Chitwood, director of career education. “But that’s not necessarily what everyone is going to do. If you wait until you’re looking for a job, you haven’t built up those connections.”
While it is common to wait until the later years to think about careers, some students reported thinking about their future for a few years before coming to college.“It is more beneficial if you have an idea going into it, but not necessary,” Chitwood said. “Career trajectory is a life-long process. If you know where you’re headed, it’s easier to make decisions, but those decisions may change.”

Elizabeth Smith, a UA freshman majoring in history, is expected to graduate with around $20,000 in student loan debt. She hopes to have her loans paid off by age 30. Photo by Mary Hennigan

Murphy started planning his future when he was a junior in high school after he shadowed a general surgeon, he said. His parents encouraged him to have a plan before leaving for college.
Murphy can earn an annual wage of $255,110 as a surgeon, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. He thinks becoming a medical professional will be the only way to repay his loans, he said.
Another UA student, Elizabeth Smith, a freshman majoring in history, started planning for her future at the beginning of high school, she said. She is expected to collect around $20,000 in student loan debt by graduation.
“I’ve always been a pretty Type-A kind of person,” the 19-year-old said. “I like to know what’s going to happen even if it’s a tentative plan. I’d like to have [the loans] paid off before I’m 30.”
If Smith graduated as a 22-year-old and earned the average high school teacher’s wage of $64,340, it would take $3,048 of her annual earnings to be debt-free by age 30, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data and the WalletHub student loan calculator.

Elizabeth Smith’s Estimated Loan Payment with 5.050% Interest Rate. Animated graphic by Mary Hennigan

Jessica Park, career services specialist and co-op coordinator for the College of Engineering, encourages students to think beyond their future salaries. Photo by Mary Hennigan

As students approach graduation, the pressure to make decisions can grow. Deciding where to live, what quality of life they want to have and looking beyond the salary are all things Jessica Park, career services specialist and co-op coordinator for the College of Engineering, recommends to students.

“Where you live, what you’re doing eight hours per day, the benefits package offered and your quality of life makes a big difference beyond just the salary,” Park said.

Podcast: Mary Hennigan discussed her reporting with Kirsten Baird

Sugar Consumption Stirs Bitter Conflict

Sugar Consumption Stirs Bitter Conflict

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

As Americans continue to over-consume daily sugar, a conflict has arose between the potential health risks and personal attacks on individuals.

Students enjoying coffee between classes. Photo by Mary Hennigan

On average, Americans consume 35% more added sugars daily than recommended by U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines; beverages account for almost half of that.
Medical professionals and researchers view excess sugar as a leading factor to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular issues. Some UA students and dieticians, however, think there should be no moral values associated with food.
The sugary drinks debate has led to a conflict over what type of food people should focus on eating. One student, who was interviewed, felt “triggered” after a discussion about what researchers have deemed potential health risks.
Even the use of the word “diet” struck controversy. Researchers consider “diet” as food intake; dieticians and students view “diet” as the sheer act of limiting food.

“America has a calorie problem; we have an obesity problem,” said Aubree Hawley, a Ph.D. student in food science and human nutrition.
The USDA recommends free sugars should be less than 10% of individual daily caloric intake. Free sugar is added to food during production or by the consumer, according to the USDA. Recommendations are based on a 2,000 daily calorie diet. This allows for about 50 grams, or 200 calories, of free sugars.
Individuals consume calories quickly and without realizing it when drinking sugary coffee, Hawley said.
“With sugary drinks in general, the harm you’re causing is probably outweighing the good of the caffeine beverage,” she said.
Food considered “good” or “bad” can pressure individuals into a restrictive pattern of eating that can lead to overeating and cravings, said Catherine Wilmoth, a registered dietician at the Washington Regional Health Center.
“Normalized eating involves pleasure with food, variety, moderation with all foods,” she said. “But that also means inclusion of all foods.”
Wilmoth encourages individuals to focus on taking care of themselves instead of focusing on their pattern of eating. Nutrition is not “one size fits all,” she said.
The UofA has at least eight different locations that sell coffee and some students report getting a sugary coffee daily.

Grande Vanilla iced coffee nutritional information – Starbucks website

Freshman Kaylee Morgan buys a grande Starbucks vanilla iced coffee every morning on her way to class, she said. Her daily drink contains 23 grams of sugar, according to Starbucks nutrition information.
“My body thinks I need it,” Morgan said. “When I take a step back, I don’t really need it. I could just get up and wake up in the morning instead of putting something bad in my body.”
Morgan’s habits started her senior year of high school after her friends started regularly drinking Starbucks coffee, she said. Morgan reported drinking more coffee in college than she ever did in high school.
“When I’m tired and I need it, I don’t really think about the long-term effects of it,” Morgan said. “When you put it in perspective, it’s scary. I will definitely have to stop before it gets bad.”
It is common for young people to feel a sense of invincibility or feel less susceptible to negative things, said Sabrina Trudo, associate professor and researcher in nutritional science.
“One might think that based on their choices today they feel fine,” she said. “But if those choices are not the most supportive of health, the issue is that there is an accumulation of effects over time.”
Having something with added sugars every once in a while is OK; it becomes a problem when individuals choose sugar-filled food every day, Trudo said.
“When your coffee is already putting you at the limit, you would have to be aware of your choices for the rest of the day,” she said. “It makes it hard if it’s a daily choice when that daily choice is already putting you at the limit.”

Sarai Aguilar, UA junior, has made it a priority to get coffee as soon as she arrives on campus. She has consumed coffee since she was a toddler, but recently started to cut back on consumption.
“My parents have always had coffee around in the house; we always had decaf,” Aguilar said. “When I was 1 or 2, they would give me a little bit. It was normal for us.”
Aguilar started sugary coffee drinks daily during her freshman year of college, she said. Her college schedule proved to be more demanding than high school and Aguilar felt more exhausted.
“I’m here from 9:30 a.m. to almost 8 p.m. on Tuesdays,” she said. “My body kind of craves a coffee.”
Each drink costs her about $5.
“If I had $10 left in my bank account and I was here on a Tuesday, of course I would spend $6 just to get me through the day,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar has thought of the health consequences of having a lot of sugar and caffeine, but always pushed them to the side, she said.
“You might feel fine today,” Trudo said, “but 15 years from now there might be some significant problems. That’s a challenge with food, nutrition and health-related education, helping people think more about the future and not about today.”
An increasing conflict is brewing between those who perceive health risks from high sugar intake and those who see questions about their food and drink consumption as a personal attack.

Starbucks beverages. Photo by Mary Hennigan

“Our current diet culture teaches us that it’s not OK to seek pleasure from food,” Wilmoth said. “That’s what that clean eating pattern pushes, that food is solely for fuel. Food is not solely for fuel.”
Consuming highly processed food shouldn’t lead to shame, guilt or stress, Wilmoth said. Food does not determine your worth as a person.
For students who enjoy the taste of coffee, Hawley recommended cutting back on sugar and eventually switch to black coffee.
Regular black coffee is not a health risk, and 3-4 cups daily can be beneficial to cognitive performance, she said. Coffee causes a release of dopamine in the body that can be highly addictive for some people. It can also be used as an appetite suppressor and increase metabolic rate.
“You only get dopamine if something is better than you expect,” Hawley said. “So, if you’re used to all this sugar all the time, you’re needing more and more sugar to get that same dopamine response.”
The increase of sugar can be found in foods across America as industries continue to cater to the want of a higher level of sweetness, Hawley said.

First-Generation Students Juggle Multiple Jobs to Pay for College

First-Generation Students Juggle Multiple Jobs to Pay for College

Students at the UofA have the option to be involved in the Federal Work-Study program, but many students also seek employment off campus due to unawareness of the program or for opportunities that interest them more. Specifically, first-generation students have to learn to balance school and work in order to provide for themselves. Their education comes at a cost as they accumulate student loan debt that they will eventually be responsible for paying off.

By Mary Hennigan, Mary Fracchia and Elena Ramirez
The Razorback Reporter

Education comes at a cost to first-generation students at the University of Arkansas. Some have multiple jobs to make ends meet, while others skip meals or live off granola bars for a couple of days each week.

Jordie Lao is an example of a student who had to skip meals. Lao, a 20-year-old from Dallas, keeps her weekly food budget around $30. The UofA junior finds the sacrifice worth it and is proud to be a first-generation student. She is motivated by her mother, who regrets not attending college.

“Money is the biggest worry I have because there is never enough,” Lao said.

Jordie Lao, a junior at the UofA, is employed at E.Leigh’s Contemporary Boutique on Dickson Street to help pay for outside costs
like her car payment and groceries. She will graduate with nearly $50,000 in student loan debt. Photo by Mary Fracchia

The Federal Work-Study program helps low-income students pay for their tuition by providing part-time jobs on or off campus while enrolled, according to the Federal Student Aid website. The University of Arkansas received more than $1.2 million to support the program for the 2019-2020 academic year.

There are around 450 Federal Work-Study jobs available at the UofA, but some first-generation students seek multiple jobs from outside employment, according to the UA Office of Financial Aid. 

Joshua Coonfield, a junior at the UofA studying psychology, started the work-study program this semester. The 20-year-old from Garfield, Arkansas, works an average of 12-15 hours a week as an ambassador for The Center for Learning and Student Success.

Off-campus, he is employed as a line prep-cook at Southern Food Company and as a customer service supervisor at Burlington Coat Factory. Even with the three jobs to keep him afloat, Coonfield has collected nearly $8,000 of federal student loan debt, he said.

“None of my work-study goes toward my tuition,” he said. “What work-study goes to is just my personal things like books, things for school supplies.” 

Joshua Coonfield , a junior at the UofA, is working three jobs to keep him afloat. He has $8,000 in student loan debt and has made it a goal to stay below $14,000 by graduation. Photo by Elena Ramirez

The average first-generation student loan debt at the UofA is $14,072, according to College Scorecard, a U.S. Department of Education database. Coonfield has made it a goal to be below $14,000 in student loans.

Coonfield is among the 360 work-study students employed part-time at the UofA. Students can earn no more than $3,000 an academic year. These earnings are paid to a student through direct deposit, a debit card system, or by having a check mailed to the student, said Erin Wooldridge, Federal Work-Study coordinator. 

Wooldridge has never seen all of the positions filled during the last four years she has worked as coordinator. 

“I don’t feel like I have done my part to promote work study as best as I could,” she said. Some employers don’t understand how to accommodate a student’s school schedule. “I try to emphasize with the employers that they’re students first,” Wooldridge said.

Melena Perry, a 24-year-old from Greenwood, Arkansas, has been enrolled at the UofA for six years and has been employed by the on-campus Starbucks for just as long. She also recently started as a peer mentor and ambassador for the School of Art. 

Melena Perry continues her sixth year at the University of Arkansas studying Studio Art. She is a full-time student and has two jobs. Perry has collected about $20,000 in student loan debt. Photo by Mary Hennigan

Neither of Perry’s jobs is included in the Federal Work-Study program, but both are on campus, she said.

Perry said she’s experienced many pressures from having two jobs while being a full-time student. There are a lot of high expectations to succeed, make good grades, be independent and financially support herself. 

While Perry has received help from her split household, she has still obtained about $20,000 in student loans and thinks her parents have collected nearly the same amount in Parent PLUS loans, which are loans that parents of dependent undergraduate students can use to help pay for college.

“Now that I do have debt from my tuition, there is even more pressure to graduate so I get a good job to pay off the loans,” Perry said. “I’m trying to crawl my way to the finish line.”

Perry is expected to graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art. 

Students have access to off-campus work-study positions, but some UA students seek jobs that are not part of the program.

Lao works off campus in a job that focuses on her major in marketing and minor in enterprise resource planning. She uses her income from E.Leigh’s Contemporary Boutique on Dickson Street to make car payments and buy groceries.

Lao sought employment off campus because she thought the Federal Work-Study program “might be too time consuming,” she said. 

Lao came from a single-parent household, so she understood the importance of going to work and being self-reliant, she said. She has received federal student aid because of her family situation.

Lao and her mother have a plan of how to tackle the almost $50,000 she will have accumulated in student loan debt by the time she graduates, but she is scared because she doesn’t want it to affect her credit in the future, she said. 

Information about Work-Study can be found online through the Career Services website, the Human Resources office’s website and the Newswire, Wooldridge said.

NSTD07: U.S. STDs Reach Record High; Lack of Sexual Education Seen at Fault

U.S. STDs Reach Record High; Lack of Sexual Education Seen at Fault

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in the United States have continued to rise for the fifth consecutive year and reached the highest combined rate ever recorded, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 2.4 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported and young people, ages 15-24, acquired more than half of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the CDC report concerning diseases spread through sex.

“It is really frightening,” said Zac Brown, director of communications at the Pat Walker Health Center. “To see that national number increase is really concerning to me because a lot of these kids aren’t even going to realize they have it.”

The increase of STDs reported since 2014 can be attributed to reduced access to prevention and care, according to the CDC. The agency also reported a decrease of condom use among young people and budget cuts to state and local STD programs.

Young people acquired more STDs partly from “the emphasis on partying and hook-ups,” Brown said.

Infections can be spread by any sexual contact with someone who is diagnosed with having an STD.

“Alcohol plays a big part in spontaneity,” said Kathleen Paulsen, a gynecologist at the Pat Walker Health Center.

“Casual sex,” she said, is a major factor.

Decades after the AIDS epidemic, Paulsen thinks people aren’t afraid of dying of AIDS anymore, she said. 

“HIV is manageable, but not curable,” Paulsen said. “They aren’t riled by fear, so they aren’t being cautious.”

Arkansas ranked No. 11 nationally for cases of chlamydia, No. 8 for gonorrhea and No. 18 for syphilis, according to the CDC. 

“I think the biggest underlying reason of increases is lack of education and access to contraception options,” Brown said. “When I first started here it almost amazed me how little students knew about sexual health.”

Students have reported that gym teachers taught their health class because there was no budget for it in their schools, Brown said. One student told Brown that a health teacher taught that the vagina was comparable to aluminum foil, and that with each premarital sexual act the foil would crumble and the woman would no longer be wanted.

Arkansas law doesn’t require schools to teach sexuality education or about HIV and other STD instruction, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States 2018 report.

Many schools in Arkansas only teach abstinence, in fear of community judgment, said Mary Alice Serafini, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and the executive director of Pat Walker Health Center.

“The educational process in Arkansas is not inclusive; it is not thorough,” Serafini said. “Most of our students report that the only education they have had is abstinence.”

Koesha Davis, a freshman from Magnolia, Arkansas, received no sexual education in school, she said. Instead of learning from academia, her parents taught her what she knows about sexual health. Davis practices abstinence, she said.

Sophomore Mercedes Moore has received STD testing twice a year for the past five years. The 21-year-old from Casper, Wyoming, is the step-daughter of a nurse. Wyoming requires some form of sexual education from K-12, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States 2018 report. Moore received only one sexual education class, she said, and that was in the fifth grade.

Jacob Jackson, a sophomore from Haskell, Arkansas, was taught one abstinence-based program during his eighth-grade year, he said. The program consisted of a slideshow that showed photos of “STDs gone wrong,” he said. Students were not taught how to prevent infection.

“It became a joke around school,” Jackson said. “No one wanted to talk about it.” 

Nationally, chlamydia reached 1.8 million cases in 2018, according to the CDC. Women accounted for 61.8% of reported cases.

Arkansas reported an almost 2% increase in cases of chlamydia in women from 2016 to 2017, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

“Within the state of Arkansas, access to women’s health is spotty,” Serafini said. “If you live in a more rural environment, you may not have access to women’s health and you may have to go hundreds of miles to get it.”

The Pat Walker Health Center provides a “Get Yourself Tested” clinic that tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Tests are urine-based and results take two to three business days. Staff members send a secure message through the online patient portal with the results.

“I can’t stress this enough: STDs are treatable if caught early enough,” Brown said. 

Left untreated, STDs will continue to spread through sexual contact. Those who are diagnosed with having an STD are at a risk of detrimental health issues and could become infertile.

Testing is critical.

The Washington Regional Health Center has agreed to a partnership with the Pat Walker Health Center to provide students with free HIV, AIDS and STD testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 4 on the third floor of the Arkansas Union.