Darden School of Business Program Enhances Employee and Student Engagement Through the Mind and Body

05/06/2012

“Going to business school is in part a step toward increased self-awareness; school gets you somewhere that you have identified as being important for you to go. The Corporate Athlete program is a continuation of that,” says rising Second Year MBA student Porter Thomsen.

Thomsen wants to change careers and move into the public service sector. A program first developed by Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute (HPI) and now offered at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business is helping Thomsen reach this goal. Addressing the mind, body and spirit, the Corporate Athlete Course® allows participants to look inward, identify needs and address them.

“I take a long time to make decisions and take action on them, which drives people around me crazy sometimes, but also slows me down getting where I want to go,” says Thomsen. “Now I feel like I have some tools and knowledge to improve. For me, moving quicker and deciding faster would help me a lot.”

Johnson & Johnson is one of Darden’s corporate partners. Everette Fortner (MBA ’87), director of Corporate Relations for Darden, participated in the company’s Corporate Athlete Course® at the company’s invitation. Professors Peter Rodriguez and Erika James also attended the two and half day seminar. Upon completion, all agreed that a version of the program would benefit Darden students. Working with HPI staff, they designed and executed a full-day integrated program for the First Year class, which launched last fall. In addition, Fortner placed a small bet and decided to become a corporate coach. Now, Fortner is able to train others here on Darden’s grounds.

Fortner sent a notice to students and staff across Darden. Thirty participants agreed to complete the program. For 10 weeks, participants engaged in partner and classroom discussions and received work out instruction at the North Grounds Gymnasium. The program also featured Dr. Jack Groppel, founder of HPI, and the entire group of First Year Leading Organizations faculty members.

“The premise of the Corporate Athlete Course® is that employee engagement and performance correspond with employees’ energy and employee management,” says Fortner. “In partnership with the U.Va. WorkMed program, Darden is able to offer this course to students, faculty and staff to enhance their effectiveness at work and in the classroom.”

The Corporate Athlete Course® emphasizes the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical energy sources. The spiritual energy source addresses an individual’s professional and personal mission. Creating one’s personal mission becomes the foundation for increased energy. The mental energy source addresses an individual’s focus. The emotional energy source helps individuals explore their relationships; and the physical energy source addresses the body’s fuel. To establish a baseline for the physical energy dimension, the students took the Hoos Well biometric screening test, which revealed blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels and other indicators of disease risk.

Jolene H. Bodily, R.D., M.P.H., coordinator for health and wellness programs for U.Va.’s WorkMed program, has long incorporated the principles taught by the Corporate Athlete Course®. Also, members of the Darden community have attended some of Bodily’s wellness classes. Therefore, it was a natural choice to ask her to facilitate some of the Corporate Athlete program modules.

“I was contacted by Darden alumnus Scott Creighton (MBA ’82), who worked with the Human Performance Institute, to be involved in planning the course at Darden based on my experience utilizing their principles. Working with Professor Erika James, Everette Fortner and others at Darden, I contributed to pre- and post-testing options, which allowed individuals to have a baseline health appraisal, measure outcomes and connect with other university departments for exercise and other needs,” says Bodily.

Improving nutrition and increased physical activity are practices that Thomsen has come to know well as he works on sticking with the healthy habits he learned. As part of the course, participants received a follow-up evaluation this spring.

“People cannot be effective if they are only focused on one piece of the energy pyramid — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual — so it’s important to take care of your body, exercise and rest your mental muscles, take time to create strong bonds, nurture important relationships and let go of some too. Take time to do things that give you a sense of being and purpose,” adds Thomsen.

In addition to enhancing his professional and academic engagement, Thomsen plans to enrich one of the most important relationships in his life.

“My promise is to sit with my wife each week and figure out what each of us is doing separately and together so that we both are more aware of each other, even when gone all day,” says Thomsen.

For questions or information, contact communication@darden.virginia.edu or a member of the Communication team.

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