March 25, 2024

UCalgary achieves first-in-the-Americas global recognition with Healthy Campus accreditation

Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire platinum certification establishes the universal standard for campus well-being
Harshita Gauba, left, Connor Hass, and Marc Poulin hold the FISU platinum certified label certificate and plaque.
Harshita Gauba, left, Connor Hass, and Marc Poulin hold the FISU platinum certified label certificate and plaque. Mave Cagas

The University of Calgary recently achieved the Healthy Campus Platinum Certified Label from the Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) — a first for any university in this hemisphere.

The Healthy Campus program provides valuable resources for universities to integrate sports values with academic studies, addressing student health holistically in areas such as fitness, mental health, nutrition, social responsibility and sustainability. The initiative was developed to counteract the trend of young adults adopting unhealthy habits during their academic studies.

Having learned about the initiative, Dr. Marc Poulin, PhD, DPhil, identified his 2023 BRAIN CREATE summer studentship research lab for undergraduate students as the opportune space to pursue this initiative. Poulin, a professor at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), began the process with a vision to make UCalgary the first certified FISU Healthy Campus university, not only in North America, but in the Americas.

Transdisciplinary approach followed for accreditation

Dedicated students of Poulin’s lab, including fourth-year Faculty of Kinesiology student Connor Hass, worked diligently to complete the necessary steps to achieve accreditation.

Poulin and Hass adopted a transdisciplinary approach, recognizing seven essential domains for a Healthy Campus: healthy campus management; physical activity and sport; nutrition; disease prevention; mental and social health; risk behaviour; environment, sustainability, and social responsibility. This approach involved collaboration with various stakeholders across campus, ensuring a holistic integration of programs and policies.

Poulin says various faculties came together, pooling their expertise and resources, a collaborative effort crucial to Hass and his team in gathering the necessary information to meet FISU's stringent criteria.

“The success achieved in obtaining (the designation) wouldn't have been possible without the united support of diverse departments and faculties across the university,” says Poulin. “This was very much a joint effort between faculty members in kinesiology and medicine, and (Faculty of Kinesiology Dean) Nick Holt’s support was critical.”

Creating a better world

Poulin underscores the importance of universities in shaping the determinants of health and well-being. "They help train the next generation and help create a better world," he says. The alignment of the FISU program with global initiatives such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the World Health Organization's Global Action Plan for physical activity further emphasizes the university's commitment to contributing to a healthier world.

Hass highlights his team's success in addressing the 100 criteria set by FISU for achieving the certification. "At first, it appeared to be a large undertaking that would take a long time. By establishing a collaborative and systematic approach involving contacting stakeholders for support and identifying, evaluating and formulating justifications for criteria completion, we were able to achieve our goal," he says.

Hass presented the compiled data at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute’s Summer Student Symposium, making UCalgary eligible for the FISU Healthy Campus initiative.

Connor Hass presents the team's research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute’s Summer Student Symposium.

Connor Hass presents the team's research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute’s Summer Student Symposium.

Marc Poulin

Global outreach for campus health

The FISU "provides an avenue for UCalgary to have interesting outreach to other universities around the world on aspects that relate to the health of the campus and the health of the students," says Poulin. The collaboration between FISU and UCalgary is seen as an opportunity to share best practices to benefit the health of campus communities worldwide.

Hass emphasizes the importance of aligning UCalgary's resources with FISU’s Healthy Campus criteria. "We're able to show that what we’re doing is in line with the dynamic needs of the student body," Hass says. He also notes how the collaboration not only benefits UCalgary, but also contributes to the broader academic community through accessible manuals that identify Healthy Campus Best Practices. For Hass, the project held a personal significance due to its strong mental health component.

He observed UCalgary's excellence in the mental health realm and discussed the group of student volunteers who, he says, “look out for the mental health and well-being of those on campus who are experiencing illness or discomfort,” referring to the Student Medical Response Team (SMR). The SMR is a multidisciplinary volunteer team that provides mental health and pre-hospital emergency medical care on campus and was the first program in UCalgary’s Healthy Campus initiative to be recognized by the FISU Auditors as a Best Practice.

A lasting legacy for UCalgary

The FISU accreditation, which UCalgary has attained ahead of other universities on the continent, is another example of the extraordinary work achieved by faculty, students, and staff, says Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Penny Werthner.

"Proudly standing at the forefront of academic excellence and holistic well-being, the University of Calgary has achieved an extraordinary milestone. This recognition is not just terrific for our institution, it's a testament to our unwavering commitment to fostering a vibrant community where every student's well-being, mentally and physically, is a priority.”

"What makes me proud is that we've created something really positive here at the university that aligns with global leaders in promoting healthy lifestyles and healthy well-being,” says Poulin. "This work may help students enjoy campus life a bit more and have a healthier experience. It's a lasting legacy for the University of Calgary."

Dr. Marc Poulin is a professor in the Departments of Physiology and Pharmacology and Clinical Neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and holds a joint appointment in the Faculty of Kinesiology. He is a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM and holds the Brenda Strafford Foundation Chair in Alzheimer Research. He is also co-director of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) BRAIN CREATE program.

UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine is an internationally recognized leader in education and research with a focus on precision medicine and precision public health. The Faculty of Kinesiology is one of the top sport-science schools in the world.

The Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) champions the global integration of sports values with academic studies. Through premier sports and educational events, FISU encourages international collaboration and competition, aligning with the FISU Global Strategy 2027. Committed to physical health and mental well-being, FISU's Healthy Campus program sets an international benchmark for university campuses. Designed to benefit students and staff, this initiative supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the World Health Organization's Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All. Learn more here.

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