Promoting Wellness at RISD
New Executive Director of Integrated Health and Wellness Bob Samuels is building a culture that values physical and mental well-being.
As safety-focused hybrid learning gets underway at RISD, recently hired Executive Director of Integrated Health and Wellness Bob Samuels is cautiously optimistic about how things are going. “Students, faculty and staff have stepped up in numerous ways during these unusual times,” he says, “and there’s a lot of great, positive energy on campus.”
A longtime student health professional who previously worked at Brown University and URI, Samuels’ primary goal—in addition to keeping students healthy through the pandemic—is implementing a new model of integrated health and wellness services at RISD that incorporates Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Health Education. “In some ways I hit the ground running,” he says, “but due to the pandemic I haven’t met a whole lot of students yet, and trying to build a team under these circumstances is challenging.”
Samuels is well aware of RISD’s reputation for heavy workloads and challenging deadlines—and the expectation that students frequently pull all-nighters to meet them. He hopes to partner with faculty to promote a cultural shift in which wellness and self-care are priorities.
“The downside of pushing your body to the edge is that it’s unsustainable,” Samuels explains. “You will burn out. You will get sick. It’s inevitable. We’re trying to teach students that you can actually be creative and healthy at the same time.”
The best way to promote mental health, says Samuels, is to consider it an integral part of the larger picture. “Western medicine has a long history of separating mind and body,” he explains. “But most indigenous cultures focus on how your psychological health impacts your physical health, and vice versa, and that’s a narrative I support.”
Especially now when human contact is so limited, he notes, it’s important for all of us to tune into our emotions and take responsibility for our own wellness. “It’s important to learn how to breathe, how to slow it down and take care of yourself,” he says. “Practices like yoga, meditation and tai chi have a positive impact on your blood pressure, your ability to concentrate and your ability to sleep.”
Samuels is planning to develop wellness programming tailored to the unique demands of RISD’s student population. He’s also heading up two related job searches—one for a Director of Counseling and one for a Director of Health Services—that will support these efforts in the months and years ahead.
“Recent studies of educational institutions indicate a rise in visits to both counseling centers and health centers,” Samuels notes. “The most effective interventions incorporate a holistic understanding of illness, and I look forward to infusing the RISD community with multiple, integrated approaches to healing.”
—Simone Solondz / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
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