Wellbeing Series Celebrates 10 Years

For 10 years, the Wellbeing Series has introduced fresh concepts and sown new ground in wellbeing through world-class speakers.

November 23, 2022
Suzy Frisch

The wellbeing model celebrates 10 years

It’s not surprising that it was a visit from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, that inspired the Wellbeing Series at the Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. The Center was honored to co-host His Holiness at the University of Minnesota in 2011 with the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota.  There was a deep and wide convening of people focused on wellbeing, including students, faculty, staff, community members, and supporters. “We were energized by the connection, partnership, and level of engagement we felt during these events and wanted to keep it going,” says Pamela Cherry, the Center’s Administrative Director and lead organizer for the 2011 events. The Wellbeing Series emerged as a way to continue to foster this fruitful sharing of ideas and knowledge again—and more often.

Center Director Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, RN, FAAN, and other Center leaders envisioned creating a more structured way to highlight the research and expertise of Center scholars and worldwide wellbeing experts to educate constituents from across the University and the community. Speakers would introduce fresh thinking and resources in a broad swath of wellbeing topics, covering the dimensions of wellbeing, including relationships, security, purpose, community, and the environment. Community members who attended lectures would gain opportunities to engage with the speakers and others who were passionate about wellbeing.

“The Wellbeing Series is really an opportunity for the Center to bring in national and international thought leaders to inform our work and to also share their knowledge and expertise with the broader community,” says Molly Buss, Community Relations Program and Event Manager. “It’s a unique opportunity because while we have a lot of expertise within our own faculty and stakeholders, we get to bring in these speakers who challenge our thinking and really challenge the community thinking as well.”

A Decade of Learning

The Wellbeing Series launched in 2012. It has attracted renowned speakers and brought thousands of people to the University each year to hear experts cover topics like mindfulness, integrative healing, music and healing, and the science of positivity. The Covid-19 pandemic prompted the Center to shift the series online so that the learning and dialogue could continue during social distancing.

Though many people miss the in-person events, the benefit of shifting online is that more people can participate, says Sue Nankivell, Center Director of Business Development and Community Relations. People from 76 out of 87 Minnesota counties have attended virtually, as well participants from across the country and around the world. 

In addition, the Wellbeing Series is now free, and speaker presentations are recorded so that anyone can watch them later. “Having people attend for free is in alignment with our mission to make sure our programs are accessible to everyone,” Nankivell says. “Our mission also is to enhance wellbeing in individuals, organizations, and communities, and we want to provide wellbeing resources for everyone. The Wellbeing Series helps us connect with people who may not be familiar with our work and are interested in the topics. It expands our reach and gets new people informed about the Center and the work we’re doing.” 

The Center developed a sponsorship model where 15 schools and colleges at the University, as well as outside donors, support the Wellbeing Series, Buss says. This model helps the Center build closer ties across the University and opens doors for sponsors’ employees to learn about different aspects of wellbeing that can help them personally and professionally. 

The Wellbeing Series’ speakers remaining in 2022 and scheduled for 2023 will present virtually, with Center leaders continuing to evaluate the best format for the future. “Whether the Series returns in person or stays online, one constant will be its commitment to bringing in scholars who delve into components of wellbeing and/or address currently relevant topics like systemic racism or planetary health,” says Cherry.

“We really see ourselves as a convener and not always a subject matter expert,” Cherry says. “All of these issues impact the health and wellbeing of individuals, organizations, and communities. We want to connect with our community collaborators, our sponsors, and our audience on these pressing social issues and wellbeing.

A Rich History

There have been many high points for the Wellbeing Series over its decade in existence, launching with Walter Willet, MD, PhD, a Harvard epidemiologist who was instrumental in developing the Healthy Eating Plate. The Center hosted Jon

Jon Zinn in a black shirt against a wooden background
 Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, to discuss using the meditative practice to experience life. Michael Pollan, a prolific writer about food and the intersection of the human and natural worlds, spoke about cooking and his approach to eating. 

More recently, Nicole Cardoza, a social entrepreneur and influential voice in wellbeing, equity, and diversity, delivered the talk, “Anti-Racism: Dismantling Your Practice,” an especially timely message for Minnesota.   

The Center often identifies potential speakers by asking for ideas from audience members, University faculty, and other constituents. “The Wellbeing Series regularly attracts well-known speakers because they are given wide leeway to engage audiences however they see fit”, Nankivell says. “We have often heard people say that they’ve never spoken with a group whose audience is so diverse, so broad,” she says. “They might not position their work through that wellbeing lens, but it makes sense to them and they find it really unique.”

In early November, epidemiologist Monica Sharma, MD, presented her model of radical transformational leaership. Sharma worked at the United Nations for 20 years, serving as director of leadership and capacity development at UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme, where she designed and directed programs for whole-systems transformation worldwide. Sharma embraces individuals’ capacity and power to effect change and solve problems by relying on the universal values like dignity, compassion, and fairness. 

Nicole Cardoza standing, smiling, in a matching workout set
Nicole Cardoza, a social entrepreneur

“Dr. Sharma’s position that everybody can be a transformational leader and everybody can change the world is really moving and inspiring,” Nankivell says. “In many ways her work is about healing and spirituality—it’s about connectedness and purpose and community—and all of that is really critical right now.”

Future Talks

In 2023, the Wellbeing Series will welcome Sará King, PhD, a neuroscientist, medical anthropologist, and meditation teacher. Funded by the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Healtw, King is a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon Health & Science University who integrates science, social justice, and mindfulness as a way to heal trauma and instigate social change. She uses a framework called the “Science of Social Justice,” incorporating mindfulness practices like compassion, loving-kindness, and forgiveness to address intergenerational trauma for individuals and larger societal groups. 

Other speakers for 2023 include Lexie and Lindsay Kite, PhDs. The Kites are identical twins who co-wrote the book More Than a Body: Your Body is an Instrument, Not an Ornament, based on their research, and founded the nonprofit “Beauty Redefined.” They will educate participants about how to increase their media literacy related to body image, such as critically questioning and deconstructing media messages, while teaching strategies for developing body image resilience.  

Medical musician Andrew Schulman, a professional guitarist and author of Waking The Spirit: A Musician’s Journey to Healing Body, Mind, and Soul, rounds out the speakers for 2023. Schulman, who has made multiple appearances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, became the first musician to join the Society of Critical Care Medicine as a professional member. After his own near-death experience and recovery, Schulman started the nonprofit Medical Musician Initiative to help incorporate music into healing for critical care patients.  

Andrew Shulman playing a guitar
Andrew Schulman, a professional guitarist

“I’m really excited about our upcoming lectures. We have a fantastic line-up in 2022 and we’re looking forward to 2023,” Buss says. “The speakers are relevant to current and new audiences for the Center as well as students.” 

Registration for many of our online programs is now available at csh.umn.edu

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