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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Institute for Holistic Health Studies at WCSU: Empowering the Next Generation

Mar 02, 2015 01:46AM ● By Natasha Michaels

Robyn Housemann has been director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury since 2006. The past nine years have seen tremendous growth and interest in what the institute has to offer WCSU undergraduates and the community, including programs supporting the visit from the Dalai Lama in 2012, an annual health fair (to be held April 2 this year) and regularly scheduled Wellness Wednesday lunch and learn programs. All of this has, in turn, fueled the creation of a new Holistic Health option within the Bachelor of Science Health Promotion Studies degreed program. The new specialization option for the existing degree program will launch in the fall of this year.

“It has taken awhile for things to happen,” Housemann reflects, “but now things are snowballing and it’s really just amazing.”

Housemann’s journey from her early career in engineering to directing a progressive holistic health education program stems directly from her own experience with illness, health, and the realization that the conventional healthcare system is not meeting the needs of most people. “It all started with my own healing process,” she explains. “My journey to holistic healing – as a practitioner and educator – began and is grounded in my own experience. None of this is theoretical to me; it is real.”

Housemann and the other instructors working within the holistic health section – including several graduates from another progressive institute in our area, The Graduate Institute – ground their teaching in their own experience and emphasize the experiential nature of the program. Many of the first students may have come to the introductory class out of curiosity or to fill an empty space in their schedules, but word has spread throughout the student population; Housemann is now seeing a higher number of incoming freshman and students earlier in their studies. She sees this as an encouraging sign of the program’s growing profile. “Many of our students come to WCSU for other majors then transfer into our program. These kids are flocking to the experiential courses,” she says. “It’s a whole different way of thinking for them and they are just loving it.”

Since the new Health Promotion Studies program was launched in 2008, more than 200 students have graduated and have successfully entered the workforce or moved on to graduate study, which Housemann is excited about. “We’re creating a growing network for students and demonstrating the value of the approach,” she explains. She cites recent graduates who have gone on to study naturopathic medicine at the University of Bridgeport or are studying to become chiropractic physicians, physical therapists, and registered nurses as examples of where students might take their undergraduate learning.

“They come out with a portfolio that shows not only what they’ve learned, but also that they can work with others to create and execute a project,” she says. In addition to their coursework, all students must complete 450 hours of an internship, developing skills and experience which make them more valuable in the job market after graduation.

The institute’s Wellness Wednesday programs—which begin again this spring—are free and open to students, staff and members of the community. The program provides local practitioners and experts with an opportunity to present on their area of expertise. The lunch and learn programs are held on campus from 12:30 to 1:30pm and in the past have included such topics as Reiki, meditation, drumming, stress management, and yoga off the mat.

In addition, the institute sponsors community events and meetings which support the overall mission of the institute. An example is a new Buddhist Meditation program series being offered at WCSU under the auspices of the institute. “It’s all about making this information more accessible to more people,” Housemann says. “We want to keep the ball rolling and keep elevating the discussion around these topics. My goal would be to have many more incoming freshman enrolling directly into our program because they’re excited about holistic health and the opportunities it creates.”

Natasha Michaels is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings Fairfield County.

For more information about WCSU’s Institute for Holistic Studies, the upcoming health fair or Wellness Wednesdays, visit or call Dr. Robyn Housemann at 203-837-8882 or email [email protected].