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The Emergence of the Chief Wellness Officer in U.S. Higher Education

Fox, William (2020) The Emergence of the Chief Wellness Officer in U.S. Higher Education. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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As institutions of higher education in the United States manage pressing health and well-being issues on campus, some are designating a new executive to lead institutional strategy-the university chief wellness officer (CWO). Increasingly, colleges and universities are purposefully shaping an organizational culture of well-being to positively influence health and wellness outcomes for students, staff, and faculty.

This dissertation in practice uses case study data about the emergence of the CWO in U.S. higher education to situate how such a leader acts as a system-wide change agent to improve population level health across multiple campus constituencies. Although a prominent fixture in the corporate sector in recent decades, the CWO role first emerged in higher education as an innovation in practice at The Ohio State University in 2011. Since that time other universities have followed suit, adopting various CWO models to address wellness issues on campus. At present, little empirical work has focused on the role itself and how these CWOs advance institutional cultures of well-being.

Using case study methodology, cabinet-level executives and other senior leaders representing key campus constituencies participated in semi-structured interviews and those data were then triangulated through document review and analyses. Themes were identified and mapped across an integrated change model (Bolman & Deal, 2017). Findings related to four frames: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic; and eight changes stages provide insight into how a designated CWO functions in the role and creates change in a complex university system. Drawing on the data collected about the experiences of the pioneering university as it introduced the CWO role, novel insights result pertaining to 1) university CWO position responsibilities, and 2) the CWO role in aligning vision, goals, and strategies to influence a culture of well-being. A profile emerges of effective CWO leadership attributes, preferred professional credentials, and supportive institutional conditions to provide valuable direction for executives who may be considering replicating such roles on campuses in the future.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Fox, Williamwaf16@pitt.eduwaf160000-0003-3914-8988
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDeAngelo, Lindadeangelo@pitt.edudeangelo
Committee MemberGunzenhauser, Michaelmgunzen@pitt.edumgunzen
Committee MemberDasey-Morales,
Date: 17 December 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 13 November 2020
Approval Date: 17 December 2020
Submission Date: 29 November 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 184
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Administrative and Policy Studies
Degree: EdD - Doctor of Education
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: CWO, senior wellness officer, higher education, change management, leadership, organizational culture, population health improvement, case study
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2020 19:25
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2020 19:25


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