Newswise — After one semester at Wake Forest University, John Marbach accepted a $100,000 entrepreneurship grant — a prestigious Thiel fellowship that supports students who want to skip college to start a business.
Even though he successfully developed e-mail filtering software and secured venture capital to fund it, he realized pursuing the entrepreneur’s dream — Mark Zuckerberg-style — took an unexpected toll on his overall wellbeing.
“It was great professionally,” said Marbach of his time as a Thiel Fellow. “But, it was not an optimal environment for personal health. I realized as a young adult I needed shared responsibility, social interaction and the sense of being ‘in it together.’”
So, after a year in Silicon Valley and New York City, he came back to Wake Forest. He returned with a better understanding of the importance of social and intellectual engagement in his own life, as well as an appreciation for Wake Forest’s efforts to double down on transforming wellbeing for the entire campus community.
Inspiration to “Thrive”
This semester, Wake Forest is rolling out a comprehensive approach to wellbeing, called “Thrive,” to inform and inspire the entire campus community to think differently about how to lead healthier, more balanced lives.
Equal parts education and inspiration, “Thrive” is a campus-wide effort, which aims to give students, faculty and staff the skills, knowledge and perspective to live healthier, balanced lives.
On Sept. 5, the campus-wide “Thrive” kick-off on Manchester Plaza will feature a campus-wide festival with dozens of fun and thought-provoking activities designed to help members of the Wake Forest community to take control of their personal wellbeing and empower others to do the same.
“We want faculty, staff and students to thrive in all aspects of their lives,” said Vice President for Campus Life Penny Rue. “With fun and engaging activities, we hope to share important resources and engage people in building a broader understanding of the various aspects of wellbeing.”
Living in a community
The concept behind “Thrive” appeals to Marbach, who enjoys the small, discussion-based classes at Wake Forest that encourage interaction with peers and professors. He also meets weekly with the Arch Society, a group of about 15 students who discuss and debate contemporary issues at the local, national and international levels. As a Fellow for the NCIIA (National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators) Association Fellows program and the executive director of this year’s TEDx conference, Marbach also has found a way to develop his entrepreneurial spirit in a setting with supportive faculty and peers.
“John knows how to sell an idea and get people excited,” said Polly Black, director of the University’s Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. “But, when he returned to Wake Forest, he said, “‘You know what? I need this time to open my mind, to develop as a person.’ He learned to balance his academic work, leadership roles and social roles in the community.”
He still plans to live in California or New York working with a tech company after he graduates, but he will start his career with the network of friends he has made at Wake Forest.
“Wellbeing is being mentally, socially and physically fit,“ Marbach said. “There will be time to develop professionally after graduation; what matters now is relationships.”
Wellbeing as a measure of success
Wake Forest is among a growing number of selective colleges and universities prioritizing the wellbeing of students, faculty and staff. Recent research suggests these investments will pay long-term dividends, particularly for students.
A 2014 study by Gallup and Purdue University of more than 30,000 graduates across the U.S. reveals that what students learn during four years in college – about their goals, their values and their relationship to the world – is directly tied to wellbeing after college.
With support from the Reynolds American Foundation, Wake Forest will become the first institution of higher education to systematically and comprehensively research student and alumni wellbeing along multiple dimensions – including social, health and career outcomes – over time.
Additionally, a gift from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will support the transformation of Reynolds Gym into a comprehensive center for wellbeing, fund a director of wellbeing position, provide seed grants for faculty research on health and wellbeing, and support new wellbeing programs on campus.