Wellness ambassador’s idea provides creative outlet for her colleagues
Tuesday, March 10, 2020

University of Iowa employees in one office on campus have found a unique way to add a bit more levity and creativity to the workday.

Do you have a passion for wellness? Would you like to help improve the well-being of your colleagues and promote liveWELL programs and services?

Consider joining the Wellness Ambassador network. Learn more on the University Human Resources website or email livewell@uiowa.edu for more information.

Lisa Polakowski Schumacher, senior education and compliance specialist in the UI Human Subjects Office, came up with an idea of a “wellness sandbox” in June 2018 when she became a wellness ambassador as part of University Human Resources’ liveWELL program. Schumacher, who has a background in recreational therapy and health care, took on the ambassador role because she wanted to help out her colleagues.

The office’s employees are tasked with reviewing research studies to ensure they comply with federal regulations and institutional policies, which Schumacher says can be stressful.

“It requires significant attention to detail and the ability to help researchers navigate the institutional review board process,” she says. “In addition, most of the staff’s day is spent in front of computer screens. My original goal was to provide a wellness station at the windowsill in our break room with the hope that it would get people away from their screens, bring people toward natural light, and encourage them to interact with nature.”

Employees put their own creative touches on the box’s contents, incorporating vacation souvenirs such as rocks or seashells, birthday wishes for their colleagues, and more. Contributed photo.

Since then, the “sandbox”—a 6-by-9-inch plastic container—has not only served that purpose but “evolved and taken on a life of its own, creating a fun environment and building camaraderie with the employees,” Hansen says.

“I didn’t anticipate how much of a community event it would become,” she says.

Employees put their own creative touches on the box’s contents, incorporating vacation souvenirs such as rocks or seashells, figurines from their children’s toy boxes, or pine cones and acorns from nature walks. Birthday wishes for colleagues also are popular, says Joanie Neyens, senior education and outreach specialist.

elmo sandbox
Sesame Street’s Elmo catches a wave in one rendition of the sandbox. Contributed photo.

“The sandbox is constantly changing, and it’s fun to see how it morphs into different things by the end of the week,” she says. “Our office is pretty quiet and we’re a fairly serious bunch as we do our work, but there have been a few times when I’ve laughed out loud because of something humorous that others have done with the sandbox. It reminds me to not take things too seriously.”

Svetha Swaminathan, an application analyst in the Human Subjects Office, says she enjoys a reason to stand up from her cubicle and walk to the sandbox to see what has been added or changed.

“It always makes me smile and lifts my mood,” she says. “The greatest thing about the sandbox is that there is no wrong way to contribute to it. I may add or remove or even do nothing to the sandbox and it’ll still be there waiting for me, cheering me and greeting me every day that I come to work.”

Schumacher encourages fellow employees to consider becoming wellness ambassadors.

“I love being a wellness ambassador because it’s fun for me to see my co-workers practicing self-care throughout the day,” she says. “It allows you to bring creativity into your day and gives you a break from your own to-do list.”