By Gisela Valencia

Salad or pizza? Stairs or elevator? Movie night on the couch or Zumba at the gym? Sometimes, it’s tough to make healthy choices. Especially when the healthy choice is time-consuming and there’s that big meeting in the conference room in five minutes. Even if it seems like sacrificing personal health and wellness helps efficiency, it’s not always the wisest choice.

Many people may be ignoring their health in favor of more work and more activities, but FIU’s Division of Human Resources is dedicated to promoting health and wellness to faculty and staff through their Worksite Wellness Initiative.

“FIU is looking out for our faculty and staff,” Wellness Program Manager Nathan Burandt says. “We want them to be connected to FIU and we want them to feel appreciated.”

The Worksite Wellness Program, as it is currently known, is the university-wide initiative devoted to raising awareness about healthy resources offered to its faculty and staff while creating more programs and opportunities that will help them with all areas of health and overall wellbeing.

In 2012, as part of its campaign to raise health awareness among faculty and staff, FIU hosted the American Heart Association’s Miami-Dade Heart Walk; the university received the American Heart Association’s Fit-Friendly Worksite Gold Achievement award that same year.

And now, Burandt has joined the Human Resources team as the Wellness Program Manager tasked with overseeing the development of the wellness program.

“We want to be the blueprint for other worksite wellness programs, especially those starting from scratch,” Burandt says.

The wellness program is undergoing its pre-planning phase, collecting data like worker’s compensation and medical care costs. Based on the results of the data, the needs-interest surveys, and the environment and culture audits, the Wellness Committee – made up of faculty and staff members from various departments of the university such as the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work – will begin creating new programs and expanding existing ones to support health and wellness initiatives for faculty and staff.

FIU Jogging Path, a lighted footpath that surrounds the FIU Nature Preserve, is a popular place for faculty and staff to exercise.

Three main components the program will address are physical health, nutritional health, and stress management, but Burandt says, the program will address needs of the FIU family, whether they be financial, spiritual or professional wellbeing.

“We’re going to be the turtle in the race, not the hare, gradually rolling out practices and programs that will help our faculty and staff,” Burandt says. “We want to empower them and increase their self-efficacy levels.”

Burandt says the goals for the program include eventually becoming a leading worksite wellness program in higher education in the United States, impacting the community through programs like walks, and helping influence FIU faculty and staff as well as their families toward healthier habits and overall wellness.

“We want to create a program at our university for faculty and staff that creates awareness and educates on the importance of health and wellness,” Director of Benefits Evelyn Rodriguez says. “It’s about choices. It’s not about becoming a gym member. It’s about being preventive, helping our faculty and staff control factors like heart disease, cancer and stress management that can prevent catastrophic illnesses.”

Part of the wellness initiative includes walking groups, participation in American Heart Association walks, how-to-cook healthy meal workshops, annual health screenings, “Lose It” – the 10-week weight loss program at FIU hosted at the Wellness and Recreation Center – as well as other campaigns to promote healthy behaviors and physical activity.

Since the wellness initiative is dedicated to FIU faculty and staff, currently, they can nominate a name for the wellness program. The Wellness Committee will vote on the name suggestions, and the new name will be announced at the 2015 Benefits Fair Oct. 29. The person who submits the wining name will receive a free one-year membership to the Recreation Center.

“If we can get people to enjoy the way they feel when they are at work, productivity levels will go up and that will ultimately benefit the students,” says Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Clinical Assistant Professor Melissa Howard, who is a member of the Wellness Committee.

Research shows that high school teachers who practice healthy behaviors influence their students’ behavior as well, and Burandt is excited to see if these findings transfer to college students.

“For a lot of students, this is the first time they are on their own,” Burandt says. “And finding good role models of healthy behaviors in their professors and staff may help them pursue healthy behaviors as well.”

The wellness program will also offer incredible opportunities for students from various departments to gain hands-on experience in the field while helping with different aspects of the wellness program.

Graduate nursing students could collect biometrics; law students could help with law policies of the program; and business students could help by promoting financial wellness through financial planning workshops.

The concept is simple: Burandt says, for a university to have impact, “the bottom line is, they need to have healthy, happy and engaged employees.”

This week through Wednesday, Sept. 23, FIU is celebrating Health, Wellness, and Recreation Week. For more information on FIU’s wellness week and its events visit