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Purdue Recreation & Wellness Adapts with Online Programming, Enjoys Successful Fall Re-opening

RecWell Trainer Leading a Class

Student Life departments have had to reinvent the ways in which they make their programming available to students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Purdue Recreation & Wellness has risen to the challenge, first to offer online programming as students learned remotely during the spring and then with a safe reopening in time for the return of students to campus for the fall semester.


When classes moved online and many campus buildings closed during the initial stages of the pandemic in March, Recreation & Wellness was posed with the question of how to continue to connect with students. The solution was to implement online programming on the fly. Within a matter of days, RecWell student staff and professional staff connected with Hall of Music Productions to record and produce online content to help students continue to practice and build wellness habits during their time away from campus. Programming included cooking demonstrations, recorded workouts, live group fitness classes, trainer tips and wellness tips. The success of these programs is evident with more than 300,000 interactions with RecWell’s virtual content through its website, social media, newsletter and other online platforms.

“We had to answer the question of how we continue to serve our students and staff with what they need,” says Mike Warren, director of Recreation & Wellness. “That’s why we made the shift to the digital world. That put us instantly right back out to the students. We continued to expand on it and find ways to improve because it was new to us.”

RecWell student staff played a key role in the development of online content, both as sources for what students would enjoy and as instructors in demonstration kitchen, workout and group fitness videos.

“Student staff are essential to keeping online offerings interesting and relevant,” says Jessica Rorick, assistant director of Nutrition Education Programs. “They’re the best resource for what their peers are looking for in online programming.”

“Student staff are essential to keeping online offerings interesting and relevant. They’re the best resource for what their peers are looking for in online programming.

The move to the online world also brought about the opportunity for Recreation & Wellness to dive into esports, which involves competitive multiplayer online gaming and is one of the fastest growing competitive sports in the world. RecWell’s program features gaming options for students as well as opportunities for viewers to watch live streams through platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. Since its launch during early summer, there have been more than 800 unique participants in RecWell’s esports offerings.

“The benefit of being at Purdue is that we have a massive STEM population,” says Jason Maynard, professional intern with RecWell Sports Programs. “The correlation between STEM fields and gaming is quite significant and we knew we had a great population here because of the already well-developed gaming clubs on our campus.”

While the move to the online world was taking place, RecWell staff was busy at work preparing for a physical reopening. Nearly every space in the France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center (CoRec) had to be reimagined and de-densified to ensure proper social distancing, including workout areas, gathering spaces and check points – all without knowing the specific parameters of what restrictions would be in place when the building reopened. All decisions were made in accordance with local, state, national and Protect Purdue guidelines.

“Safety was the number one consideration all around,” says Brian Smith, interim assistant director of Facilities and Maintenance. “Some parts of that consideration were easily done with simple tasks like adding plexiglass barriers. Other parts, such as de-densifying workout areas and figuring out how to get people in and out of the building, took a lot more planning.”

RecWell Trainer on Stationary Bike

The CoRec reopened to members late in the summer and has remained open for the entirety of the fall semester. New procedures include a reservation system, which requires all members to reserve a time to come into the building, and a contactless entry via the RecWell app or a self-swipe station. All members are required to wear masks, even while exercising, and additional sanitizing stations are available throughout the facility. Under reopening guidelines, the CoRec can accommodate approximately 400 people per hour and 3,000 per day, plus another 150 in the aquatic center.

RecWell is also making use of outdoor spaces as part of “ReEntry Purdue Atmosphere,” a campus-wide initiative to offer in-person events and programming for students. RecWell’s efforts include outdoor group fitness classes and a game zone. RecWell has additionally implemented an equipment-loan program, known as RecWell GO, which allows students to borrow equipment for free.

Sports have also made a comeback to campus, with more than 200 teams signing up for sand volleyball and an additional 50 for a fall kickball league. RecWell is continuing to explore ways to create opportunities for students to play sports that produce “low risk” contact as deemed by local, state, national and Protect Purdue guidelines.

In true Boilermaker spirit, RecWell has also been a strong partner to other campus organizations. The Turf Recreation Center (TREC) has been used as the on-campus location for COVID-19 testing, providing a valuable service to the Purdue community. Areas within the CoRec have also been used for studying and socially-distanced dining spaces.

It’s very different from what we would normally do, but it’s important that we contribute to the overall campus community.

“These aren’t normally what you would think of as recreation or wellness pieces, but this year, they are,” says Abby Whaley, senior associate director of Facilities and Operations. “It’s important to have spaces to go study or eat that are safe, and going to get a COVID-19 test is part of campus safety and wellness. It’s very different from what we would normally do, but it’s important that we contribute to the overall campus community.”

RecWell leaders say they can foresee future application for some of the measures implemented during the pandemic. Warren says RecWell plans to continue to grow the esports program and is adding to its library of online content for future needs.

“I think the digital space can always complement our in-person programming,” says Warren. “We do hope that our in-person facility and programming can always be our featured area and at the spine of what we do, but we always want to reach those who may be more comfortable engaging from their homes.”

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