By Leah Jones, Features Editor


Students pay a lot of money to get an education during college. With the future of the healthcare system uncertain, students do not want to leave college with health complications to pay for on top of their school loans. However, many students find it difficult to prioritize health and wellness and fulfill their other obligations.

Zachary Lee, junior, English, said, “Not only do I have several jobs on campus, but I also have my classes that I have to keep up with. Then, I have to worry about ‘oh, am I going to sleep enough?’ or, ‘Oh, am I going to actually have time for dinner tonight?’ So, I feel like there is a lot of catch-up. I put health to the side to meet my other expectations for work and for school.”

In addition to juggling wellness around busy student schedules, finding and affording healthy food can also be a challenge for students. Zoe Scala, junior, psychology, said, “Not to be rude to Sodexo or anything, but there are not a lot of healthy options on campus, and on top of that, it’s just expensive already, just with college prices. It is hard to find the money to just go get celery or something.”

Enter Kathy Castulik, UMSL’s campus health educator. As campus health educator, Castulik consults with students on nutrition assessments and tips, promotes smoking cessation, and provides free condoms and HIV testing, as well as outreach education for students on things like alcohol poisoning. She also said that she often speaks with students who are writing papers in healthcare courses, letting them see some of her presentations and giving them free informational brochures.

Wellness is a slippery concept though. “I don’t have the sniffles right now, so I guess I am kind of well!”  Lee laughed.

Scala defined wellness as mental and physical health, as well as being able to get enough sleep and nutritious food to eat.

Castulik explained that wellness is composed of six different dimensions, including social wellness, physical wellness, intellectual wellness, emotional wellness, spiritual wellness, and occupational wellness. With all of these different dimensions, she said that wellness is very individualized and changes from day to day.

According to the National Wellness Institute, these categories were developed by Dr. Bill Hettler, a co-founder of the organization. The physical dimension of wellness encompasses diet, exercise, medical self-care, and the abstinence from excessive alcohol or drug consumption. The intellectual dimension acknowledges the need for learning and intellectual and creative fulfillment in one’s life. The emotional dimension of wellness incorporates the ability to recognize, manage, and express one’s feelings to form interdependent relationships with other people. The social dimension further highlights this interdependence between people, advocating for contribution to one’s community and harmony with the environment. The spiritual dimension acknowledges the search for meaning and consistent belief systems. Finally, the vocational/occupational dimension acknowledges the importance of work in which one feels that they can meaningfully contribute their skills to a purpose which they value.

“[Wellness] is different for everybody because not everybody has the same schedule. So it is teaching everybody, based on their individual needs, what is going to work for them. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. The concept is the same, it’s just applying it to the type of lifestyle you lead at that given time,” Castulik said.

While how wellness is practiced will be different for everyone based on their lifestyles and schedules, Castulik said that it will also differ in what parts of it are the most important at that moment in time. “It means something different to everybody,” she said. “The whole concept is that if you are leading a healthy life, you have all of those six dimensions in [the] order that is [important] for you. … Of those six, they can change day by day … and it can change hour by hour, so it all depends on each individual and what their priorities are in life and what is important to them. So those six dimensions could fall in any given order for any different person.”

Though Castulik works with all of the components of wellness, many of the services which she offers UMSL students fall under the umbrella of physical wellness. Castulik meets with students for nutrition assessments and gives students the new Myplate guidelines, which recently replaced the food pyramid guidelines. The guidelines give a visual representation of how much of a person’s plate should come from different categories such as complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vegetables, fruit, milk, calcium, vitamins, and nutrients.

As a diabetes educator as well, Castulik said that it is now recommended that everybody follow a diet similar to that which a diabetic person might follow. Castulik explained how these eating strategies can benefit everyone beyond just the physical components of wellness. “They have to learn how to use their ADL (Average daily living skills),” she said. “It’s self-management [and] self-monitoring skills, and that is part of wellness.”

Castulik said that developing these skills and following healthy eating habits are important for students too, though, as Lee and Scala said, students have the added challenge of managing their health and wellness around classes, further highlighting the importance of individualized wellness plans. “[Wellness is] learning how to plan meals in between classes, when to eat, [and] what to do when you don’t have a meal that you would like … [to] still eat and eat healthy?”

While many students end up eating only once or twice a day around their busy schedules and based on what is available to them at school, Castulik said that this haphazard eating is not good for their metabolisms. “The analogy I use is [that your metabolism] is like a fire. What do you have to do when you see the fire going down? What do you have to do to keep it going?” Castulik asked. “You have to add wood for that fire to build back up. It’s like your metabolism. You have to add food to fuel it to burn calories. [You must burn] 3500 calories per pound of fat.”

Castulik suggested that students get a gallon-sized bag resealable bag and make their own healthy trail mix to ensure that they do not run into situations where they need to eat but have nothing healthy available to them. Castulik lauded unsalted almonds as an easy go-to addition to trail mix. “Unsalted almonds are good for LDL, which is the bad cholesterol. They also lower triglyceride buildup, [and they] help increase the HDL, which is the good cholesterol. So nuts are actually very good for you, especially almonds without salt,” she said.

She also suggested added fruit to the trail mix. “Dried fruit is also just as beneficial as fresh fruit,” she said. Though for students who prefer fresh fruit, Castulik said that students can soak things like apples in salt water, lemon water, or vinegar, without taking away from the flavor of the fruit, nor adding sodium, since the apples will not absorb the salt. She does recommend leaving the skins on the fruits though. She also recommended adding cran-raisins, blueberries, raspberries, or bananas to a healthy trail mix. For students who do not like trail mix, Castulik suggested peanut butter with fruit and yogurt.

Though many students rely on it, Castulik recommends limiting caffeine intake as well. Instead, she said that students should drink fresh water as often as possible. “Caffeine acts as a diuretic, so it depletes your body of fluids. It’s always good to drink fresh water or decaf tea, [and to] stay away from soda,” Castulik said. “You can have some caffeine sometimes, but fresh water is always the best.”

While Castulik helps all students to eat more healthfully, she also helps students on UMSL’s tobacco-free campus to quit smoking. She said that the smoking cessation program is one of her biggest programs, boasting a success rate of about 99 percent and more than 70 graduates of the program. “I’ve got students who had been smoking for over 20 years who have quit,” Castulik said.

“[Students] meet with me for initial consultation, we talk about the program, the duration of the program, what the expectations are, I supply them with patches and nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges, and they follow up with me every two weeks [for me to] see how they are doing and to get their refills,” Castulik explained.

The program runs for about 10 weeks, depending on how many cigarettes per day a person smokes at the beginning of the program. While a program like this would normally cost about $110 every two weeks, UMSL students get this program for free.

In addition to the free smoking cessation program, Castulik also hopes to offer UMSL smokers with a support group. “I am also starting a support group for people who smoke and want to quit and those that have quit. … I will be offering it at two different times. We basically will get together and share ideas [about] what works for one person, [and] to make friends. … It [will offer] that support of being with another person. It’s awesome,” Castulik said.

“I don’t want to see anyone become a statistic,” Castulik said, explaining the importance of the program. “I lost my parents to lung cancer. … So, it’s not just professional—it’s personal too. I want to empower people with knowledge.”

Castulik also offers students with free HIV testing and alcohol poisoning awareness programs. For HIV testing, students set up confidential appointments with Castulik, who then performs a rapid HIV test, allowing students to receive their results in 20 minutes. The alcohol poisoning awareness programs teach students about the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning and what to do if a peer shows any of these signs and symptoms.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these signs and symptoms include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute), irregular breathing (with a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths), blue-tinged or pale skin, low body temperature, and passing out (unable to be awakened). Castulik said that UMSL students have been very receptive to the awareness program. “We tell students to lay [alcohol poisoning victims] down, put them in a recovery position, call 911, [and to] look and make sure that they have a pulse or that they are breathing,” she said.

Castulik became interested in wellness while she attended Missouri State on an athletic scholarship.  “I decided [that] wellness is the future,” she said, and completed her degree in wellness and health promotion.

As public interest in wellness has grown, her foresight has proven to be fortuitous. “Health education can be used in many different settings. I’ve worked in a hospital where I did community health, outreach education. I would work side-by-side with physicians in helping patients in all different areas of health,” she said.

As an experienced practitioner in diverse environments and the different components of wellness, Castulik serves as a valuable resource for UMSL students. “I just think students need to learn what is here for them, and I don’t think they know,” she said.

In the case of Lee and Scala, she was right. “I knew that the health and wellness center was on campus. I didn’t know that there was an educator,” Scala said. “I would say that that is a very vital part of any campus community, and it’s really cool that we do that. I just had absolutely no idea that we did do that. I think it would be beneficial to people.”

Lee agreed. “I’ve used some of those resources in the past, but I didn’t know the range of resources that was available to us,” he said.

“I am here as their campus health educator,” Castulik said. “I supply them with materials, and they can come and set up an appointment. Anything they talk to me about is confidential, and it is based on what their individual need is.”

While Castulik hopes that students will take advantage of her services while they are on UMSL’s campus, she also hopes that larger systemic changes will take place to grant more people access to the benefits of wellness. “I am hoping to see more insurance companies pay for wellness because that is prevention. Prevention reduces risk factors of heart disease, [diabetes and] all kinds of things. … More and more physicians are getting into wellness and health promotion because it is prevention. It [would] save the insurance company money in the long run of things if they would pay for prevention because it would help prevent people from getting sick or hurt,” she said.

In the meantime, students who wish to make an appointment with Castulik are encouraged to visit her office in University Health, Wellness, and Counseling Services, located on the lower level of the Millennium Student Center in the Nosh. Students may also email her to set up an appointment at