Three members of the Cal State LA community received WellBeingU Champion awards Wednesday for exceptional contributions that have helped create a culture of caring, compassion and well-being at the university.
The three award recipients—student Ashley Lepe, faculty member Nidhin Patel and staff member Joanna Gaspar—were honored for their extraordinary and innovative dedication to the well-being of others at an April 27 WellBeingU Speaker Series event in the new Janice Cordova Garden of Well-Being.
“Thank you for all that you continue to do to increase the well-being of our students, faculty and staff,” Cal State LA President William A. Covino said to the awardees at the event.
The award presentation kicked off the speaker series event and celebration of the garden, which was officially dedicated on April 21.
“I am really excited to be in the garden today with all of you,” said Ryan Lamkin, environmental services commissioner and chair of the Environmental Policy Committee for Associated Students, Inc., Cal State LA’s student government. “This is one of the first designated green spaces on campus, and it’s everything that our group advocates for—being outdoors—it helps students so much.”
The program marked the first in-person speaker series event in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the program, Dr. Daphne Miller explored the relationship between nature and well-being. She discussed how soil composition and biodiversity can impact human health, as well as biophilia, defined as the human instinct to derive a sense of well-being from and seek to connect with nature.
“What we do know is that gardens—and a short dip into them—are good for our health,” said Miller, who is an author and practicing family physician in Richmond, California. “So come here, enjoy this luxurious bath. Dip in even if it’s just for a couple minutes.”
Miller is a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and serves as curriculum director for integrative medicine and research at the Lifelong Family Medicine Residency Program in Richmond. She is also the founder of Health from the Soil Up, an initiative that harnesses medical resources to transform the food system and promote environmental justice.
First Lady Covino interviewed Miller for an episode of the WellBeingU Interview Series, which explored further the connection between health and well-being and experiencing nature.
The WellBeingU Speakers Series has brought notable leaders and experts to the university, including Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle, Los Angeles Times columnist and Cal State LA faculty member Steve Lopez and Prajna Paramita Choudhury, a mindfulness meditation practitioner.
The WellBeingU initiative was created by President and First Lady Covino in 2014 to improve the inner and physical well-being of students to help them achieve academic success while dealing with the pressures of university life, family responsibilities and jobs.
As part of the initiative, the WellBeingU Champion awards celebrate individuals who help promote a culture of well-being at Cal State LA. The recipients are nominated by fellow students, faculty and staff.
This year, the award recipients received a certificate of appreciation and a $500 gift.
Lepe, a nutritional science major, is a student manager for Cal State LA Recreation in the University-Student Union, and a mentor trainer for the Golden Eagle Nutrition Education program. Nominators described her as a creative thinker who is committed to a career in addressing health disparities through nutrition, and an outstanding student leader.
Patel is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Television, Film, and Media Studies in the College of Arts and Letters. He also works with the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning to help construct professional development programming that reached faculty across the university. Patel shared with faculty on issues such as faculty self-care and instructed on ways to implement trauma-informed pedagogy into the classroom in support of students. He wrote well-being practices into curriculum for his TVF 2000 course, which focuses on the eight dimensions of self-care.
Gaspar has worked in the Student Health Center for more than 20 years in many roles, including as the primary health educator in the Health Promotion and Education Department. She created the Quick Facts Canvas course, tailored for first-year students, which includes modules on health, including topics such as healthy sleep, mental health, stress, and healthy eating.
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.