University Celebrates a ‘Healthy GW’ at Grand Opening of Colonial Health Center

Initiative supports student wellness through unified healthy and safety efforts, launches Peer Support Program.

Colonial Health Center lobby with a person checking in at front desk
The George Washington University celebrated a new era of health and wellness with the launch of Healthy GW at the grand opening of the Colonial Health Center on Wednesday. (William Atkins/GW Today)
January 14, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

The George Washington University launched Healthy GW Wednesday afternoon, signifying the university’s renewed focus on health, wellness and safety.

The initiative unifies wellness efforts across the university such as the GW Parenting Initiative (GWPI), the Urban Food Task Force and Smoke Free GW. It is an integral part of the 23 priorities outlined in GW’s commitment to the Healthy Campus Initiative, according to George Washington President Steven Knapp.

“Locating our student health and counseling services together in the heart of our campus was a terrific idea that came to us from our student leaders themselves,” Dr. Knapp said. “I can’t think of a more powerful way to launch our university-wide Healthy GW campaign.”

The launch was timed—fittingly—with the grand opening of the Colonial Health Center, a nearly 18,000-square-foot wellness hub on the ground floor of the Marvin Center. The new home for GW’s medical, mental health and health promotion and prevention services opened Jan. 5. It served more than 400 students in its first week. 

More than 50 students, faculty and staff gathered for the opening celebration, which culminated in a tour of the multi-use space. The center features more than 50 offices, exam rooms, labs and a cheery, modern design by architecture firm SmithGroup JJR.

“Since the office is designed to emphasize privacy and increased accessibility at the heart of campus, we wanted to offer tours to familiarize students with the new resources that are available and give them an opportunity to see how the space meets their needs,” said Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.   

The ceremony also served to launch the Peer Support Program, a Student Association led initiative to reduce the stigma around seeking mental health and other wellness services. SA President Nick Gumas said that he researched comparable programs at peer universities and interviewed more than 100 student organizations in developing the idea. 

“I am so grateful to go to a university where students are committed to improving our university and to have an administration that is supportive of that advocacy,” Mr. Gumas told the crowd.

Mr. Gumas said that the SA would continue to work with administration to build the program in the coming months.

“For many students, talking through a problem while it is still relatively benign can help prevent that problem from developing into something more serious,” said Mr. Gumas. “At its core, a peer support program is an opportunity for students to help students, which only helps strengthen our community.”

GWPI Director Lori Lerman said that she hopes GW’s new and expecting parents also will benefit from the renewed focus on health and wellness.

GWPI launched in 2011 as the Breastfeeding-Friendly University Project but has expanded. It offers classes for expectant parents, infant-child CPR training and discussion groups. The initiative also organizes a drop-in group and a mentoring program for mothers who are breastfeeding, according to Ms. Lerman.

Alumna Deborah L. Tillman, M.A. ‘02, known as “America’s Supernanny,” will offer parenting tips at a GWPI launch event on Feb. 4.

The goal of the parenting initiative is to provide parenting and breastfeeding support for members of the GW community and beyond,” Ms. Lerman said. “Our new location within the Colonial Health Center will make us much more accessible to parents participating in our programs or seeking information.”

Dr. Knapp said that Healthy GW is an opportunity to embrace all of the university’s wellness efforts, from addressing sexual assault to enhancing healthy services and reducing violence, and “advance the cause even further.”

“All of this is coming together, and I am very excited to see it happening,” he added.