Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness

Pilot:  March Madness for Total Fitness 9


This was a 4-course (graduate & undergraduate) pilot, to test the use of a shared service-learning project added to existing courses to develop an intercollegiate fitness challenge to coincide with March Madness.

What is Total Fitness?

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 1The military defines health to include the 'whole person' in the whole community.  And, they've used a train-the-trainer model to teach over 30,000 Army soldiers to train 10's of 1000's of other soldiers to be totally fit.Dr. Seligman at U Penn, who led the Total Fitness train-the-trainer program, stated,  “If we can train Drill Sergeants to lead resilience training in Army units, I don’t see why college students can’t train their peers to be more resilient.”At the 2012 Living and Leading with Resilience Conference, Air Force Colonel Bates and I presented a strategy for George Mason University to LEAD - to kickstart a competition for university communities to compete to be the most totally fit.We dubbed it, March Madness for Total Fitness, to coincide annually with the basketball tournament. And, we based our assertion on a set of pilots, conducted in the GMU Department of Communication.

Creating a Culture of Total Fitness

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 4Mason's Distinguished Communication Professor, Dr. Kreps hypothesized that it might be possible to change the norm - to create a culture of fitness on campuses - by way of a health communication campaign.Health communication campaigns have shown that social norms can change ... if it's POPULAR, EASY, & FUN to do it.


(1) Make it EASY by adding to any existing course, the option of a shared service-learning project that sets a goal to achieve the aim - an intercollegiate fitness challenge, (2) Make it FUN by 'gamifying' it (i.e., Compete to have the course, department, or school with the most fitness points), and (3) Make it POPULAR by associating it with March Madness, adding prizes that local retailers can contribute to, and assigning service-learners to use social media to promote the competition as well as to share what they learn in their courses about 'what works' for Total Fitness.

Piloting ‘Shared’ Service-Learning

Imagine Mason’s March Madness for Total Fitness 2In 2010, we began pilots across 4 undergrad and graduate courses. The semester before the subsequent 3 pilots, Dr. Kreps offered a 'shared service-learning project' in COMM 820 Health Campaigns - to do a literature review of intercollegiate fitness campaigns. The following ensued.It was EASY to engage more courses (a professor and instructor) to add a 'shared service-learning' project. The COMM 391 PR syllabus, as with Dr. Kreps' course, already included a hands-on assignment to fulfill a service to a client with a need for a communication deliverable. And, the student-teacher of COMM 200 participated in 'shared service-learning, as a partial fulfillment of her assignment in Dr. Kreps' COMM 404 Health Comm course.It was EASY to recruit students to 'opt into' these projects. For one, it was highly relevant. Many actually struggled to lose the Freshman year weight gain. As well, there was great enthusiasm about the possibility of pioneering the first such intercollegiate competition.

Service-Learning Pilot #1

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 6Dr. Rowan's Writing for PR class conducted a survey of Freshman to learn what would make it 'POPULAR' to join a Total Fitness team.Most who were surveyed endorsed having: (1) Course credit (i.e., adding it as a service-learning project), (2) Retailer incentives (i.e., a Starbucks gift card to the winner), and (3) A verifiable way to count fitness activity.These survey results (from the PR students) were then handed off to students in Dr. Kreps' Health Comm 404 Health Comm course.

Service-Learning Pilot #2

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 10Dr. Kreps' Health Comm 404 service-learning project was to design a FUN and verifiable Fitness Challenge.Testing a mobile health app - called WIZIT - with QR codes that converted to fitness points and prizes (sponsored by Starbucks), students plotted a fitness course between the campus and nearby Fairfax Old Town.And, they recruited students from yet a 3rd course (Comm 200) to actually test out the fitness challenge - as a service-learning project.

Service-Learning Pilot #3

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 5Students in COMM 200 who opted into this 'shared service-learning project' downloaded the 'Wizit' app on smartphones. The one who logged in the most laps (back & forth between 2 Starbucks) during a week, won a Starbucks gift card.Their reactions were mostly positive with suggestions for how to improve it for the next time. Overall, students among the 3 pilots were very enthusiastic about the potential for launching and leading a March Madness for Total Fitness. 

Posters & Presentations

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 7These health communication pilots were presented at 5 conferences:2010 NIH mHealth Summit2010 American Psychological Association2011 Association for Prevention Teaching & Research2011 Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology2012 Living and Leading with Resilience (George Mason U)

Enthusiasm by Academics

More Mason courses would likely join

Imagine Mason’s March Madness for Total Fitness 7Janet Walker, then Director of  Wellness by Mason, suggested that their annual Resolution Solution fitness challenge could collaborate with an intercollegiate fitness challenge.Their coalition spans the entire University, including many courses and Departments that could add an option for 'shared service learning. 

42 Grad Programs Would Join

Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness 11When we presented the idea of March Madness at the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology 2011 Conference, we surveyed these Directors.Asked if they’d integrate the service-learning aspect into their Clinical Skills training, 42 Directors indicated that they could see it as part of their clinical Practica ... engaging patients as well.

Next Steps

Contact us (drcary@mac.com) if you're interested in developing the idea of an intercollegiate challenge for total fitness!Pilot:  March Madness for Total Fitness 12


Post Curator

The lead curator for this Pilot: March Madness for Total Fitness post is Meredith Cary.

If you have any content you would like to add to this post, submit it to drcary@mac.com.


Feedback discussion coming soon.


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