by Kathy Cash  

Miami Dade College: Where Wellness Opportunities Change Everything

Jeannie Cidel, former elementary and middle school teacher with a passion for nutrition coaching, wrote a children’s book, Schooling Through Fruits and Vegetables, because she believes education is the key to a successful wellness program. In 2013, she became the first Wellness Coordinator at Miami Dade College (MDC), with America’s largest undergraduate enrollment at 167,000 supported by 7000 employees.  


Although the college already offered base-line wellness activities such as flu shots, biometric screenings, and occasional health challenges, the administration wanted a coordinated program. Jeannie recalls: “It was so exciting. I took off running and implemented numerous changes but quickly realized I needed to step back and take a more measured approach.” Along with the Director of Benefits and Vice Provost of Human Resources, she conducted a variety of assessments and evaluations, then set out to build employee engagement in the wellness program by providing opportunities to change.


The results speak for themselves — through these efforts MDC has received the following awards:


  • American Heart Association Fit-Friendly Award — Gold Achievement/Worksite Innovation (2013, 2014, 2015)

  • Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Excellence in HR Award —  Health and Well-being Finalist (2015)

  • Florida Department of Health Excellence Worksite Wellness Award (2015).

Campus Resources Support Wellness


Existing resources provided a solid foundation for Jeannie to build the program.


  • The 3 largest campuses host fully equipped fitness centers. Each has a wellness director, who works closely with Jeannie on initiatives, gets the word out on programs, and coordinates department challenges to compete against each other. Jeannie also counts on help from 8 volunteer campus wellness ambassadors (champions) as well as Benefits staff. Discounted employee membership includes access to exercise classes, such as Zumba®, yoga, Pilates, meditation, spinning, and a SharkFit boot camp program.

  • The 5 smaller campuses offer exercise classes chosen through employee survey results.

  • All 8 campuses have walking paths. Course maps and distances are on the MDC website.

  • Campus cafeterias set aside a particular day each week to showcase a new healthy food item. Employees can go online every day and see available food choices, with stars indicating the healthiest options.

  • Vending machines carry Fit Pick products positioned at eye level, with descriptions about why they’re the healthier choice. Newer vending machines allow the viewer to click on nutrition facts about all products before making a selection.

  • The CROPS program (Community-Rooted Organic Produce Services) lets employees purchase fresh local produce. Some campuses grow their own fruit and vegetable gardens.

  • All college credit courses and workshops are free to eligible employees, with tuition reimbursement for full-timers pursuing a college degree. Continuing education is available for professional and skill development at reasonable rates.

  • The South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union has free financial wellness lunch’n learns on topics like managing money, establishing (or reestablishing) a credit history, and reading a credit report, along with related counseling and other services.

  • Conflict resolution through the Employee Relations Team is available on request to help resolve issues between coworkers and/or supervisors.

  • The Sustainability Committee raises awareness among the campus community on environmental issues and enforces the no-smoking policy.

  • MDC connects to several social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. These resources, along with emergency preparedness information on the website, help employees plan and stay in touch during severe weather and other emergencies.

  • Division of Human Resources maintains a separate website page to describe available career opportunities.

  • Each year, the Service Recognition Program sponsors award ceremonies for retiring employees or those who have served for 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 years.

  • Aetna, MDC’s health insurer, sponsors base-line biometric screenings plus health and wellness challenges. Participants completing an HRA receive financial incentives through the Aetna Navigator™ online platform. Through Aetna, lunch’n learns, or the College Department of Training and Development workshops, Jeannie can meet requests for mental health, stress management, and other emotional health services.

Work/Life Balance


In addition to continuing many existing programs, Jeannie tries to keep her new initiatives fresh and appealing. “Our goal is to encourage employees to have fun and achieve a healthy work/life balance. Last December we offered the Health Enhancement Systems Health for the Holidays campaign that was very successful; we received numerous positive comments. While such campaigns are for employees only, we sponsor an annual 5K walk/run and participate in many community fitness events open to families. In addition, health insurance plan participants now receive a partial rebate for selected events. And 2 years ago we held our first college-wide massage day — a free 5-minute massage and a sandwich. It was so well received that we plan to bring that back.”


Jeannie tries to add an element of fun to everything... even health fairs. “Last year, the theme was Hoops for Health, where we awarded prizes for the number of basketball shots achieved. Our population demographic is older, with a median age of 45. It was great to see them out there shooting hoops and enjoying themselves.”


Communication, Change, and Innovation


  • All important MDC-wide announcements, including wellness updates, go out directly from the College President in special emails. Each Campus President reports to the College President and follows up with campus-specific details in town hall and department meetings.

  • The college is undergoing a major revamp of its information system. Jeannie attributes the smooth changeover to integrated feedback process, with both top-down and bottom-up communication strategies. “We’re in Phase 1 of what we call MDC Connect. The college has done an excellent job of providing weekly updates on what will happen next and what it means to employees. Although the new system has gone live, we continue to learn the finer points of how it works. Trainers are in every department to help as needed. Day-to-day users can share their observations and make suggestions during these communication sessions. Senior management emphasizes inter-department collaboration. It plays a huge part in managing change, because 1 omission or oversight impacts all other processes. Each department gets together at least weekly to make sure everyone understands tasks and receives assistance. MDC commits to a supportive workplace, especially during times of great change.”

  • When Jeannie started here, the college used a local hospital for biometrics screening. But it had no advance registration and sent only 1 nurse to do screenings at all campuses, so as many as 50-60 employees would be waiting. Jeannie outsourced to a company with a sophisticated online registration system and screening process.

  • Health fairs used to be done at all campuses, but Jeannie quickly determined that delivery to smaller campuses was not cost-efficient. Vendors waited for long periods while employees struggled to arrange coverage for their duties. Now health fairs are held only at the 5 larger campuses — a move that’s increased the number of available vendors, presentations, and resources. The whole process is much more efficient and appreciated by all.   

  • Jeannie compiles data from all employee health screenings, feedback surveys, and Aetna disease management reports on major cost drivers. “I use this data to plan programs for the upcoming year. I present my proposal to the Manager and Director of Benefits and Vice Provost of Human Resources. We move forward based on their input.”

  • She adds just 1 new major initiative each year. “This has worked very well. Not only are we more organized, but it allows us to see what is working and identify future needs. During the 2015-2016 academic year, we added personalized nutrition counseling as the next layer to the wellness program. Lunch’n learns have been a regular feature, but I consistently heard tons of questions that couldn't be effectively answered in a group setting. We now offer 2 individual dietitian/nutrition counseling sessions to interested employees.”

A Lifetime Commitment


Jeannie confirms, “Wellness has become my life. Once I got into this position, I never looked back. I’ve seen firsthand that any opportunity for change, no matter how small, generates a positive ripple effect that impacts everyone. Participation has increased across the board. Sometimes it’s the small things that are most appreciated. Because of increasing employee awareness, meetings and celebrations now offer fruits and veggies. Employees who have been here for years tell me that’s never happened before. It’s been my honor to be involved in this evolutionary process.”. 


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