Choate House on the Pace Pleasantville campus

Motivational Stories

August is National Wellness Month. What Will You Do?

August is National Wellness Month, a time to focus on self-care, manage stress and promote healthy routines. Please tell us what you do (or will start to do beginning in August) to focus on your wellness.

August 2021

J. Gisel Licciardello

Director of Enrollment Marketing

To focus on my wellness I make sure I walk two miles every other day. I also meal prep to ensure that my family and I are eating healthy meals.

Dr. Susan L. Maxam

Asst Provost, Special Programs/Retention Initiative

Here’s what I do to focus on my wellness:

  • Hike every morning with my beloved rescue dogs
  • Maintain an “attitude of gratitude” every single day (and tell people how grateful I am for what they do!)
  • Engage in social justice and animal welfare activism
  • Surround myself with positive people
  • Do gardening
  • Engage in short mindfulness practices throughout the day
  • Promote kindness all day every day
  • Look at the positive side of virtually everything (at least where possible!)
  • New this year: I actually took most of my vacation time…something I’ve never done!

Valerie Palacio

School of Education

I do yoga three times a week and I practice mindful breathing.

Alerie Tirsch

Interim Associate Dean for Students, Pleasantville Campus

I decided to begin going to the gym and/or walking 5 miles a day at the river. I did these things for a long time and stopped a few months ago, and now I am starting back up again.

Helen Tsoukanov

PT Staff Instructor, ELI – Westchester

This is what I try to do on a regular basis:

  • get adequate sleep
  • get enough exercise
  • stick to an anti-inflammatory diet
  • engage in meaningful relationships with friends and family
  • keep a gratitude journal
  • engage in random acts of kindness
  • practice self-compassion
  • practice mindfulness and meditation

Prof. Robert S. Wiener

Associate Professor
Legal Studies and Taxation NY

Aside from what I’ve been doing, and trying to be “better” at going to sleep early enough to wake up with the sun, hoping to do more regular (daily) violin playing for focus and stress reduction — although it might increase the stress of my neighbors.

William Zimmerman

School of Education - Westchester

My goal is to incorporate the 3Rs on a daily basis: running, reading and relaxing.

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Why I Got Vaccinated

Read the reasons some of our colleagues, including some of our leadership, provided for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Robert C. Almon


I got vaccinated as soon as I was eligible because I had had COVID-19 and do not want to risk having that miserable experience again, nor do I want to risk spreading that miserable experience to those who are not yet vaccinated, like many young people and children, or to those with compromised immune systems, like many cancer patients.

Karen Buckwald

HR Initiatives and Organizational Effectiveness
Human Resources

I got vaccinated to protect myself and others. I want to spend time with family and friends, and travel freely again! I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to help end this pandemic. I believe “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Heather Crognale

Staff Associate
Physician Assistant Program, Pleasantville

I just received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I am normally very skeptical about vaccines and rarely get a flu shot but after a lot of thought I decided to get the COVID vaccine. I got the vaccine because my husband, myself and other family members had COVID back in January. We were lucky, our cases were mild but the thought that we could get it again and it could possibly be worse weighed heavy on my mind. So I decided that if the vaccine would lessen the symptoms what did I have to lose? I know we may need a booster, I know it doesn’t mean I won’t get COVID again. But I also know that I would rather have a mild case of COVID than a severe one. I did it for the greater good and not just for me and my family. I want to see friends again, I want to see family members, I want to hug them. Having this ounce of prevention will make those moments possible.

Paul R Dampier

Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer

Why did I get the shots? Why not, I’m joining the aging population, my wife, daughter are both pre-diabetic, my 5 year old grandson is type 1 diabetic, all who are at risk of severe or terminal complications due to the virus. I was lucky to be included in the early vaccine groups and only had two reactions; first waiting in line for 3 hours – which is no longer an issue, 2nd slight reaction to the band-aid after the first shot – easily fixed for the 2nd by taking the band-aid off almost immediately. Why did I really get it – the consequences of catching COVID-19 far out way the risks of the shot, and I’m now able to return to a close to normal life now.

Harriet R. Feldman

Dean and Professor
College of Health Professions and the Lienhard School of Nursing

Separate from the fact that I am healthcare professional, and someone who was late to the game for taking flu shots, I decided to take the COVID vaccine. The pervasiveness and deadliness of the virus convinced me to take the plunge. Herd immunity can only occur if most people are immunized. That’s the only way we will be able to fully let down our masks. Perhaps the biggest selling point for me personally is that immunization gives me the opportunity to spend quality, in person time with my children and grandchildren, something I cherish. All those eligible are now vaccinated, which led to a wonderful Mother’s Day celebration and the promise of much more! So get vaccinated and get back to enjoying life!!

Jean Gallagher

VP for Strategy and Partnerships

I received the Pfizer vaccine as soon as I was eligible. I was nervous when I read the disclaimers about the vaccine approval, so I gathered more information. I talked to my primary care physician and to doctors and nurses in my family; they all assured me that the vaccine is safe and effective. I have teenagers and did not hesitate at all in having them vaccinated as well once I had more information. I firmly believe that the vaccine is the most effective means we have of moving forward with any kind of normalcy. It’s a great feeling to gather with my parents and other vaccinated family members and know that we are emerging from the pandemic together.

Grace Griffin

Staff Associate
Counseling and Personal Development Center

I got vaccinated to protect myself and my loved ones and so that I can safely enjoy some beach trips this summer!

Erin Mysogland

Program Coordinator
Center for Community Action and Research

I got the COVID-19 vaccine to protect myself and my family. I got it so that I can resume life the way I remember it. Spontaneously going someplace or out to a restaurant. I get the flu shot to protect myself. I thought it was a good idea.

Lauri Nemetz

Physical Education

I got vaccinated so I can travel again and watch more sunrises and sunsets from an airplane window! Can’t wait to hug more friends and family that I’ve been missing.

Matt Renna

Vice President, Human Resources

I was very anxious to get the vaccine to do my part in making sure that I took care of my own health, but did my part to keep others safe. I was able to get an appointment when I became eligible and was willing to travel 3 hours to Binghamton to get it. Luckily, I was able to get an appointment more locally in NYC. I kept up with the science and believe strongly that if we all get vaccinated, we can put the pandemic behind us. The bottom line is, the vaccine saves lives. Too many people have gotten sick and we’ve sadly lost too many people over the past 15 months. We have a social responsibility to do what we can to end this as soon as possible. I believe in the vaccine so much that I was comfortable having my 16 year-old daughter vaccinated as soon as she was eligible. I hope everyone considers not only the impact to them and their families, but to society in general.

Jennifer Ruhle

Clinic Administrator
Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic

I got vaccinated as soon as I was eligible! I did it for a few reasons: I wanted to do my part to help us move past this pandemic, I wanted to decrease my anxiety about COVID-19, and I wanted to reunite with family and friends I hadn’t seen for a very long time!

Robina Schepp

Vice President for Enrollment Management and Placement

I am happy to say that I am fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The process was very easy and I had no side effects after receiving each shot. I look forward to seeing my colleagues again in face to face meetings. And I am already happily venturing out for an occasional meal.

Gabriela Tavarez

PT - Paraprofessional/Technical
Copy Center New York

I will be getting the vaccine soon because I want to do what I can to be a part of the solution for COVID-19. I lost an immediate family member due to COVID and I want to get vaccinated so that other people don't have to go through the hardship that my family and I have gone through this year.

Peter Webb

Physician Assistant Program - New York City
College of Health Professions

I am a firm believer in science and health. Operation Warp Speed brought together public and private stakeholders on a national vaccine initiative. I shared my story on social media as a public service announcement to my friends and loved ones. The COVID-19 vaccination is a safe and vital part of reopening our city and country. Hopefully every member of our community will take advantage of upcoming vaccination appointments."

William Zimmerman

School of Education Westchester

I agreed to get vaccinated in pursuit of personal health, general safety, and as my contribution to the exponential decay of COVID-19.

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How do you Take Care of Your Mental Health?

When one has positive mental health, they are better equipped to handle stress, be more productive, and realize their full potential. Our colleagues were asked to share their story to help others understand that achieving mental health is a daily process.

Karen Buckwald

Director, HR Initiatives and Organizational Effectiveness
Human Resources

During these hectic and stressful times, I take care of my mental health by being mindful and appreciative of the good in my life. It’s important to think positively! Breathe slowly. I take walks to appreciate the beauty in nature – it’s available to everyone! I also relax by tending to my plants and flowers.

Julie Gaglione Werkheiser

Senior Training Manager
Continuing Education and Talent Development

In terms of mental well being, I try to practice yoga/meditation or some form of movement apart from just working each and every day at my computer! My puppy Isabella is very helpful in the getting moving department.

Kyomi Gregory

Assistant Professor
Communication Sciences & Disorders Department

I take care of my mental health by making time for mindfulness and exercise daily. This is a daily process. I feel like every day I have to renew my mind to stay mentally healthy.

Dr. Susan Maxam

Assistant Provost
Special Programs/Retention Initiative

Mental health IS so incredibly important so it’s something I focus on all the time! There are so many ways I promote it in myself as well as others. Here are a few:

  • I have an “attitude of gratitude” and am thankful for virtually every little thing, esp. the intangibles, such as a kind word someone offers; birds singing; my dogs jumping for joy (and food!); flowers blooming; etc.
  • I practice random acts of kindness all the time!
  • I do a great deal of activism for social justice and animal welfare, which makes me feel good about “being the change I want to see in the world!”
  • I start each day by reading an “everyday peace card” from Thich Nhat Hanh” which provides a guiding thought/insight for the day!
  • I practice deep breathing throughout the day!
  • I eat very healthy food which makes me feel good physically which makes me feel good mentally!!

Denise Moreno

Program Manager and Adjunct Instructor
Psychology Department

I have found breathing works best for me. I have tried to meditate but I find it hard to do. To be able to “empty your head” is next to impossible. If I try to close my eyes and not think about anything, I tend to end up thinking what other things I have to do (emails, upcoming zoom meetings, laundry, errands, what am I making for dinner? etc.). When I do take a few minutes to take a few deep breaths, I think “Inhale-breathe in the smell of the flowers and exhale-blow out the birthday candles.”

I have also found walking in the morning has helped me deal with and cope with stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. During my walks I would also have a cup of coffee, sit on a park bench and enjoy/appreciate the quiet time, the alone time. Making time for morning walks has helped me tremendously to mentally prepare myself for a day in front of the computer.

Rosemary Mulry

Employee Relations Specialist
Human Resources

Painting has been a source of relaxation for me during this past year. Each weekend, I have tried to set aside a block of time devoted to a ceramic painting project. It gives me a chance to meditate or listen to my favorite tunes. One of the joys has been giving the painted pieces to my family for holidays or birthdays.

Erin Mysogland

Program Coordinator
Center for Community Action and Research

I take care of my mental health by going on daily walks in Central Park, talking to my family on the phone, regularly practicing yoga, and enjoying ice cream in the spring sunshine!

Laura Rigolosi

Adjunct Professor
Pace School of Education

To take care of my mental health, I make sure to take at least 30 minutes a day to exercise. This is my minimum - more is better - but at least 30 minutes to do a workout or go for a walk outside to just look around and clear my head. I realized a few years ago as a working mom if I don't make this time for myself, I'll never "get" the time, so I make sure I find the time.​ Super important for my well being to look after myself and make sure I exercise a little every day.

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How a Pet Impacts My Health

In the May 4, 2021 Health and Wellness Programs email, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month and the important role pets play in our lives, we asked staff and faculty to tell us how their pets impact their health.

Mary B. Croft

PT Faculty
School of Education

I frequently get to look after my son's family's pet dog, Avon, a Havanese, whilst they are away on weekends. He certainly lowers my blood pressure, and I get to go outside for some fresh air about four times per day, particularly when he was at our place during the pandemic. We love Avon so much - he is definitely part of our family!

Laura Fung-Ross

Program Coordinator
MPA, New York City

Our furry family members bring us peace, comfort, and so much love!

Erin Furey

Adjunct Faculty
Psychology NY

My cats are a big part of my self-care routine and wellbeing - I find that playing with them for even five minutes makes me happy and calm and is a form of self-care that I can squeeze in most days!

Dr. Susan Maxam

Asst Provost
Special Pgms/Retention Initiative

Since I pretty much LIVE for my pets, this was an easy one!! Daisy, Walnut, and Zosi are our rescue dogs who bring us nothing but joy!! They bring me joy every minute I’m in contact with them; significantly reduce my sky-high anxiety levels whenever I pet, play, or snuggle with them; keep me physically healthy as we do our daily hikes; and they remind me to truly live in the moment…something they excel at! I’m sooooo in love with them and grateful for them!!

Rosemary Mulry

Employee Relations Specialist
Human Resources

My dog Piper brings joy! For the past decade, she's brought love, comfort and healthy walks to my family. What a gift!

Amanda Peterson

Compliance Manager
Financial Aid Office New York City

My dog, Millie most definitely impacts my health, both physically and mentally. We hike or walk every morning despite the weather. Millie looks forward to this hike and it puts me in a good mental state to start my day as well as getting physical exercise.

Matt Renna

VP, Human Resources
Chief HR Officer

“Nugs” or Miss Nugget as we call her she sure loves us. She’s excited to see me every time I come home. We have this routine where she runs on her favorite chair so she can jump up to meet me and we cuddle a hello together. The sight of her always brings a smile to our household. Her love is unconditional.

Jasmine Spadoro

Enrollment Operations Specialist
Undergraduate Admissions New York City

My pet Titan is so sweet and loving. He's a big baby who loves to cuddle and give kisses! Coming home and seeing him makes my day.

Morgan Theze

Admission Counselor
Undergraduate Admission

Some staff or prospective students might have seen my roommate’s dog Margot when she has attended a meeting (intentionally or unintentionally when she breaks into the room!). Margot works hard to make sure everyone in the apartment has good morale throughout the day and is always available if someone needs a boost.

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Motivational Stories from Your Colleagues

The road to improved health can be a difficult one – but not impossible. We are asking you to submit your success story so that you might inspire one of your colleagues.

Kam C. Chan, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of Accounting
Lubin School of Business

I am getting close to reaching my exercise and weight loss goals for 2019. After my class last fall semester at Wilcox Hall, I was exhausted walking uphill back to my office in the Goldstein Academic Center. I also noticed that I felt drained after my evening classes. Based on a standard body mass index calculator, I was overweight. So I set the goal to complete a Four Seasons Challenge Series in my local town and to lose 10 pounds in 2019. The series consists of four charity events: a 4-mile run on New Year's Day, a 5-K run on Mother's Day, a 5-mile run in June, and a 5-K run on Halloween. I started doing regular power walking exercises last fall and completed the first three events in 2019. However, I found out that even though walking is an excellent exercise, walking alone is not enough for me to lose weight. I visited my mother in Hong Kong this January, and it was funny that she gently chided me on having a big belly when she saw me! But she was right. I needed a combination of both diet and exercise, so I have adopted a flexitarian diet in June. I eat mostly plant-based foods and I limit my meat, carb, and added sugar intake as much as possible. For example, instead of eating just white rice, I eat a mixture of white rice, cauliflower rice, and wild rice. I have lost seven pounds in the past three months. I now feel that I have more energy, and I am confident that I can reach my health goals this year.

Erika Crispo, PhD

Associate Professor
Coordinator, Ecology minor
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences

Microorganisms are vitally important to our health. Without “good” bacteria on and in our bodies, we would have difficulty fighting infections and digesting our food. It has also recently come to my attention that a healthy microbiota might be necessary for maintaining good moods. Some microorganisms in our digestive systems secrete neurotransmitters1,2 which are chemicals that allow signals to be sent through our nervous systems and even influence our brains. Along these lines of research, evidence has suggested that our gut microbiome may play a role in anxiety and depression. I therefore made a pact to eat foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome to promote both physical and mental health. Plant-based foods are difficult for the human body to digest, and thus microbes have evolved symbiotic relationships with humans. A plant-based, fiber-rich diet promotes the proliferation of a healthy gut microbiota that breaks down these foods in our digestive tracts3. Although I have been a vegetarian for nearly 30 years, I now make an effort to opt for leafy green vegetables during at least one meal per day. I choose whole grain breads and brown rice over refined carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, and white rice. A healthy protein-rich choice is quinoa, which contains all of the essential amino acids (‘essential’ referring to our bodies’ inabilities to synthesize them from other molecules). When I stick to these dietary choices, I have more energy, a more positive attitude, and I feel hungry less often. I avoid taking probiotic supplements though – some research suggests that they actually hinder the gut microbiome’s ability to bounce back to a healthy state after taking antibiotics4.

  • 1Jameson KG, Hsiao EY (2018) Linking the gut microbiota to a brain neurotransmitter. Trends in Neurosciences 41(7):413-414.
  • 2Strandwitz P (2018) Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Brain Research 1693:128-133.
  • 3O’Keefe SJD (2019) Plant-based foods and the microbiome in the preservation of health and prevention of disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 110(2):265-266.
  • 4Suez J et al. (2019) Post-antibiotic gut mucosal microbiome reconstitution is impaired by probiotics and improved by autologous FMT. Cell 174(6):1406-1423.

Vanessa Hall

Special Events Coordinator, Westchester
University Special Events

I had so much fun looking for the scavenger hunt objects! I usually take time to walk the campus, but this time it was with a specific purpose. While looking for the objects, I encountered and came upon things that I had glanced over and didn’t pay much attention to. But this time I was aware of my surroundings more than the last.

I started the scavenger hunt with the easy objects then I headed over to the Environmental Center area looking for the Cheever Nature Trail sign. That was pretty easy. I thought the moss covered stone bench must be on the nature trail somewhere. Wrong! At the end of the trail I see this huge pond that I didn’t realize was there. I saw a student volunteering in the garden and decided to introduce myself.

Then on to look for the last two objects. That darn moss covered stone bench and the iron dragon. As I’m heading up the hill to the OSA building I hear rustling in the brush. I look and there’s this HUGE deer prancing along in the same direction as I! What a beautiful sight! I did find the iron dragon sitting high atop the entrance of the OSA building.

I reach the top of the hill where the Goldstein Academic building is. I think I see what is a stone bench sitting on top of this small hill and head in that direction. THERE IT IS!! Mission accomplished!!!

As I head back to my office, I ponder the benefits of such a walk. Walking not only burns calories, but it strengthens the heart, boosts your energy, tones your legs, and improves your mood. Think about it! Don’t you feel GREAT after a good walk? And what about all the creative juices that were flowing while you were walking? You can answer questions that were on your mind, solve that mystery that had you off kilter, and enjoy your surroundings all the while exercising. I will walk as long as I am able…it’s one of the free gyms of the world!

Dr. Bette H. Kirschstein

Associate Dean, Dyson College of Arts & Sciences
Associate Professor of English
Editor, Transactions

As a woman “of a certain age,” I struggle to stay fit. When I was a teenager, I played on tennis teams and was an avid skier, so I didn’t have to think much about how to keep in shape. In my twenties, I started running and kept it up until my knees started bothering me at around age thirty. So I slowed down to a walk, feeling prematurely old but determined to do what I could to maintain both physical and mental wellness. In my thirties, I started having lower back problems, which were exacerbated by my twin pregnancy and then made even worse by my decision to wheel my young daughters in their double stroller up and down the hills of Riverdale in order, ironically, to keep fit. As a result, I have been living with fairly chronic back pain for many years, which limits me in many ways, making it challenging to “pace myself to wellness.” Nonetheless, I soldier on, refusing to give up on exercise. I stretch my back every morning, aim for 5000-6000 steps each day, and make time in my busy schedule to take a 30-40 minute walk on a flat surface several times per week. So if you see someone walking around (and around) the nice flat quad between Kessel and the residence halls this fall, you’ll know it’s me trying to pace myself to wellness. Feel free to wave hello or even join me. I’d welcome the company!

Dr. Susan L. Maxam

Assistant VP, UG Education
Division of Student Success

Anyone who knows me knows that my mission in life is to “be the change I want to see in the world.” But in order to do that effectively, I had to be the change I wanted (needed!) to see in myself! Understanding that one’s emotional, physical and spiritual health are all interconnected, I made some major changes over the past few years in each of those areas and I’ve never been happier or healthier! First, I went vegan for environmental, animal and health reasons. Contrary to popular belief, it’s NOT a limited diet; in fact, it has opened up a whole new delicious culinary world and inspired me to take up cooking, which I now LOVE! For my physical health, I hike 7-8 miles a day with my beloved rescue dogs, which gives me oodles of energy in the morning and helps me decompress at the end of the day! (During my morning walks, I simply enjoy being in nature…listening to the sounds and breathing in the fresh air, and in the evening I listen to my audiobooks!) Finally, thanks to Sophie Kaufman who introduced me to it, I now routinely practice mindfulness, which enables me to live in, and be grateful for, the “present moment.” My advice for anyone who asks? Do what makes YOU feel healthy and happy!! There are countless activities and lifestyles people can engage in that suit their particular needs and passions!

Chris Salboudis

Asst. Professor
English Department
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences

"Moving at Your Own Pace"

A few years ago, I was at a physically and mentally stressful crossroads –while juggling the massive responsibilities of a single parent. Energy was running low, stakes were unbelievably high, and I was surrounded by “emotional vampires”. Inspired by the words of Prof. Thomas O'Sullivan and Fr. John Vlahos, "Be Present. Be Attentive." and Steve Burns’ "Don't give up, just go on!" (Blues Clues), I recommend the following:

  • Understand your own limitations: Multitaskers struggling with complex work-life responsibilities tend to miss red flags indicating that major stress is about to hit.
  • Know your rights and your network: Know who you can count on for sound advisement; don't indulge discrediting "gaslighting" behavior.
  • Stay positive: Refocus momentarily by taking a deep breath and thinking of something that makes you smile/laugh.
  • Trust in others: Single parents tend to be very “DIY,” but it’s important to learn how to let go and delegate tasks or ask for assistance.
  • Get involved: You (and your family) can join fun activities to help your community peers or those in need.
  • You’re not “too busy” for personal care! As Vidal Sassoon would say, "If you don't look good, we don't look good."
  • Move on: If you're in a toxic work/home environment, it’s important to move to a positive, supportive atmosphere where you can flourish.
  • Do a monthly personal "reboot": Set down your usual work-life routine and tribulations and schedule an activity. It doesn't have to be anything expensive, but it should be positive, constructive and affirming – a fitness program, brunch or night out with friends, a new book, etc.

These have worked very well for me. I’m much stronger and happier today as a result.

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