September 20, 2010

The year of living healthfully

Rogers House residents focus on nutrition, fitness and well-being

Resident adviser Carolyn Pearce and students Alec Genecin, Cinthya Garcia and Stefany Gomez tend to the potted herbs and vegetables they’re growing for their meals in the courtyard of Rogers House. Photo: Will Kirk/

On a midmorning last week, a student walked out into the Rogers House courtyard and made a beeline for a cluster of pots. She inspected a leaf of one of the herb plants and glanced at the young, unripened tomatoes and green peppers in neighboring pots. Satisfied, she popped back inside the residence hall.

The herbs and vegetables were not quite ready for harvest, but soon they’ll find their way to the lunch and dinner plates of 20 Johns Hopkins undergraduates who have signed up for a year of healthy living.

In an effort to promote wellness, Homewood’s Office of Residential Life has designated Rogers House, located on Greenway and University Parkway, for its Healthy Living at Hopkins Experience, which debuted this fall.

The building’s residents, all sophomores, will participate in a year’s worth of programs that foster balanced living, exercise, nutrition, rest and relaxation, and a substance-free lifestyle.

At the start of the term, the students received a fitness class pass to the O’Connor Recreation Center, stress management kits and supplies for planting a vegetable and herb garden.

The four-story residential building itself got a makeover with new carpets, flooring and stoves and cooking equipment for the common kitchens, and the basement was turned into an exercise room, courtesy of no-longer-needed equipment from the recreation center. Students also were provided with an outdoor grill and a composter.

Throughout the fall and spring semesters, students will have direct access to dietitians, an herbalist, fitness gurus and massage therapists. Students also will participate in cooking classes, seminars by health professionals and other events, such as trips to farmers markets.

Come midterms and finals, the residents will get visits from Stressbusters, a student group that provides free five-minute backrubs and other stress-relieving techniques.

The students self-selected Rogers House as part of the housing application process and filled out a questionnaire as to why they wanted to live there. The option was open to both men and women.

Shelly Fickau, director of Residential Life, said that her office wanted to put together like-minded individuals for a unique health-centered experience that would encourage stress reduction, proper nutrition and other healthy habits.

“We wanted to give them an experience that they are not going to get anywhere else, and make some friends in the process,” Fickau said. “Residential Life is committed to healthy living. We’re constantly doing programming related to health in collaboration with the Center for Health Education and Wellness. The residence halls are where they live, grow and learn.”

Carolyn Pearce, the resident adviser for Rogers House, said that the hall has already become a tight-knit community. The students take turns cooking, help cultivate the garden and often go in groups to the recreation center. Pearce said it feels like a home.

“Everybody really wanted to live here and had similar objectives,” Pearce said. “There’s definitely been a big emphasis on learning to cook. We’re always trying new recipes.”

Pearce said that while the house promotes healthy living, the students don’t have to deprive themselves of anything—they can indulge in sweets and snacks if they want. In other words, nobody gets voted out of the house for bringing home a 56-ounce bag of M&Ms.

“We make these healthy options available to the residents, but it’s up to them to pursue aspects that they feel are healthy for them,” Pearce said. “Healthy living goes beyond eating; we promote more of a balanced lifestyle”

Marie Hepfer, a physics major, said that she chose to live in Rogers House to help motivate her to exercise more.

“I didn’t exercise enough last year, and it got to me,” Hepfer said. “ I did varsity sports in high school and don’t do sports here. I was missing that aspect of my life.”

Hepfer said that she uses her fitness class pass for yoga sessions, and takes full advantage of the equipment in the basement.

Pearce said that with the equipment just feet from the laundry room, students can take a 20-minute turn on the elliptical while they wait for their clothes to dry.

The current plans, Fickau said, are to make Rogers House permanently the healthy living house, but the program could be expanded to other halls in the future.