Meridee VanDraska joined Illinois State University in 1990 to teach in the medical laboratory science program in the Department of Health Sciences, and in 2002 she became the director of medical laboratory science. In 1998 VanDraska was asked to become a Wellness ambassador, as the role seemed like a natural fit given her field. VanDraska accepted the role, and now she is one of the longest term members of the Wellness Ambassador team, a total of 21 years!

The role of Wellness ambassador was attractive to VanDraska because it was something she could contribute toward wellness, while also being a manageable role along with her other academic duties. “I’m always learning things as a Wellness ambassador and I like sharing that information. I communicate the wellness information and opportunities provided by Health Promotion and Wellness with my colleagues via email, as well as posting and informing them of wellness events. Some of opportunities I have shared, people have taken advantage of, such as ergonomic consultations, getting involved in the SEVEN program, yoga classes, and health education.” Those are wins for VanDraska, when people engage with the information she provides.

VanDraska tries to intentionally live wellness: “I walk, and as the weather is becoming nicer, I can walk even more. I also always tried to eat healthy and be an example for my kids. It must have worked, because my son loves salads. When my son was three, we went out to eat and he ordered soup and salad, and the waitress questioned me if that’s what he really wanted, puzzled by his healthy order. Also, whenever wellness events are going on campus, I make a point to attend. Sometimes my colleagues are there as well, which is nice to see.”

Adding to her wellness experience, VanDraska has recently taken advantage of a Koru mindfulness class offered on campus for free through Health Promotion and Wellness. VanDraska talks more about her mindfulness experience and how it can support the emotional and spiritual dimensions of SEVEN, “I have enjoyed learning the meditations, like Gatha, and I really liked the Loving-Kindness meditation, very powerful. Mindfulness also helps with gratitude for what we have, and changing the perspective from ‘I have to’ versus ‘I get to’ for whatever is in front of you at the time.”

Every Wellness ambassador has words of wisdom to share, and VanDraska is no exception: “People can take their health for granted. We also often don’t think about what we are putting into our bodies. I would say try to be more mindful in everyday life in what we are doing and eating.”

VanDraska is a great example of the simple steps we can take toward wellness, along with her natural curiosity to explore, learn, and grow her wellness experiences. With each exploration, we can become pioneers in our own health and well-being. Thank you, Meridee, for being a Wellness ambassador pioneer, sharing your story and words of wisdom, and supporting others in their wellness journey!