As we do each Monday, we continue our Meet A Deac feature. Today, I am pleased to feature Ashley Hawkins Parham (MA ’12) of the Office of Wellbeing.
What is your job title? I’m the Wellbeing Program Manager in the Office of Wellbeing.
How long have you been at Wake? I’ve been here about 5 1/2 years, and was a graduate student for 2 years before that.
That’s right, you are an alumna! Tell me more about your educational background. I was in the College of Charleston’s Honors College and earned a BS in Psychology. Then I came to Wake Forest to get my Master’s in Experimental Psychology.
What do you do in layperson’s terms? I am a Wellbeing coach and also manage our Wellbeing Coaching Program. I teach Koru mindfulness and lead multiple workshops around building resilience (everything from COVID resilience to gratitude to building routines and resilience planning). These are offered broadly to any students and also can be coordinated with any student group/organization on campus specifically. I am a Community Resiliency Guide, incorporating trauma-informed mind-body skills into all of my resiliency trainings. I host a weekly Livestream, ResilientWakeLive, to share skills for resilience and interview various members of the community to talk with students about how they’re doing, what’s gotten them through COVID-19, etc. I also helped create the first wellbeing programming targeting graduate students.
Some of the other hats I wear are that I am our office’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion liaison, working to center our marginalized communities in our wellbeing work, helping elevate and instill inclusive practices across our campus, and supporting our office in adopting the WFU RIDE Framework and through a monthly collaboration with the Intercultural Center, Provide and Thrive. I co-manage our Massage Therapy service – this had been on hold due to the pandemic but is finally back! – and I collaborate with Campus Recreation on our Move More! Move Often! program, an 8 week challenge typically offered each semester to increase joyful movement in our day to day lives. I am also a member of the Mental Health Coalition, led by an incredible colleague in the University Counseling Center, and of the Leadership and Character Partners Council.
And you serve as Vice President for the Staff Advisory Council, right? Yes, I do! I am honored to represent our Wake staff members through this incredible council and collaborative space. Through this position, I serve on our university’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion and was a part of the Presidential Search Staff Advisory Committee as WFU navigated it’s search for a new university president last year.
Tell me how your job changed this past year with our COVID-19 response effort. I had a leadership role in establishing our Sun, Stretch & Move program for students in Quarantine to go outside safely each day. I also established the Wellbeing Support Team, which allowed students in Quarantine and Isolation to opt in to regular communications and support from our Wellbeing coaches. In the fall, we worked on ResilientWake Weekend Challenges to help students have purposeful activities, and in spring when students had a day off in lieu of Spring Break, I coordinated a day-long menu of wellbeing based practices for students.
I also created the Resilience and COVID-19 Workshop – presented 20+ times across campus to various student, faculty, staff, and alumni audiences [I am still grateful you hosted that for us in the Call Center!] and helped develop Resilience at Work: A Toolkit for Managers and Department Heads – to support a culture of care and intentional, inclusive leadership within our faculty and staff departments. This resource was inspired by the pandemic but will grow and live on far beyond this time. There was also committee work: one on monitoring student engagement in campus activities, and one on the Sophomore Experience for ’24s, which includes co-chairing a Sophomore Retreat to take place in Fall 2021 to give our rising sophomores opportunities for connection and resilience building as they enter their second year at Wake.
What were some of your biggest challenges during the pandemic? From a professional standpoint, we had to function within the same constraints as everyone else, including the necessary guidelines to stay safe, which made it hard to provide the types of support that we most wanted to provide to students: connection and opportunities to process what they were experiencing. We created all the programs I mentioned earlier to help students with their wellbeing and their mental health, but had to operationalize those in non-traditional ways.
Personally, not seeing my immediate and extended family was the hardest. They are mostly in South Carolina – which is so close! My immediate family and I usually gather monthly at least and I see all of my extended family in the summer. Not being able to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…even a few births in there that we haven’t been able to celebrate together was extremely hard. Driving to the South Carolina coast immediately lowers my blood pressure and brings a sense of calm and ability to be in the present moment for me that no other place does.
That leads nicely into my next question: what do you miss about normal times on campus? Having lunch dates and walks on campus with friends.
You’ve been both a grad student at Wake and a staff member. Having seen both sides of it, what do you like best about working at Wake? The people – I am constantly inspired by the colleagues and students that I get to engage with on this campus – truly amazing human beings. I also appreciate the continued opportunities to learn new things and skills – to see speakers like Ibram X. Kendi, Madeline Albright, Ron Stallworth, and to have workshops and panel discussions among leaders across all disciplines. Every week there is something available to us to take a deeper dive into – to expand our knowledge or skillsets – to continue to grow as professionals and individuals.
Put on your Wellbeing Coach hat for a moment and tell me what advice you would give Wake students. Give yourself and others grace. We are all doing the best we can with the resources we have at any given time. There’s no reason to expect to perform or feel today in the way that you did before the pandemic started – and that’s okay. The way you speak to yourself matters – if you wouldn’t say something to your best friend or 10-year-old you, you shouldn’t be saying it to yourself now!
Find time for joyful movement and some time outside everyday – these are powerful influences on our body that will also make your mind feel better. When you feel overwhelmed: Breathe. Deeply. Let your body calm down. Then examine what’s causing you to be overwhelmed and identify 2-3 concrete, tangible steps to take…and start there. Finally, consider a social media break and see how it feels for your after a week or two. It’s just an experiment! It’s not forever 🙂
What about advice for families? Literally the same as above 🙂 And also, I can’t imagine how it must have felt to have your students far away and navigating this past year “alone.” Adults have faced this epidemic with fully-formed-pre-frontal cortexes with a lifetime’s worth of experiences to help us navigate and find tools to manage disappointment, grief, and, simply, unwanted change. Your students, mostly, don’t have that bank of resources yet, and that has certainly made their journey through this last year challenging.
This isn’t advice, but something I want families to know: the resilience I’ve seen in your students has been so inspiring. They were able to acknowledge the short term nature of these circumstances (yes, 1-2 years is a long time…but it’s still 1-2 years of an entire lifetime), and to witness the creativity they’ve used to stay connected and motivated, or the initiative many of them took to support their own mental health and those of their friends, was amazing. Students accepted the challenges of each day and diligently worked through them – and sometimes that meant saying ‘you know what? I need a break today’ (and taking a break!) The pandemic has been taxing for nearly every human on earth, and our students were not immune to that. But Wake Forest students are incredible, and they will continue to be incredible long after the pandemic.
And now we come to my favorite part – the bonus questions!
Book you are reading now: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
What are you listening to these days: For fun – late 90s/early 2000s hip hop/R&B. For work – Mozart & Bach. But mostly podcasts these days 🙂
Guilty pleasures: Oreos. Below Deck on Bravo.
Introvert or extrovert? I am pretty much right in the middle! I get an incredible amount of energy from being around others and almost never want to leave where I am 🙂 but also need a lot of my own quiet time at home or in nature to recharge.
Something most people don’t know about you: I lived in Charleston, SC for 8 years through college and a few years between college and graduate school working in restaurants/bars. I was actually quite shy and socially awkward before I decided to work in customer service to try to break through that anxiety for myself – I figured a job that required me to talk to strangers all day had to get me over the hump. I met the most amazing, kind, interesting, and fun people working in food and beverage and interacting with tourists and locals in Charleston. I learned 3 pretty cool things 1) a good meal is on every corner in Charleston – if you love food and haven’t been there…do it! 2) I can talk to anyone if I just say hi first, LISTEN to them, and respond intentionally to what they’ve been willing to share with me and 3) some people are just grouchy and it’s got nothing at all to do with me or you 🙂
What was on your must-do list once the pandemic got more under control? Go to a concert or dancing!
What didn’t I ask you that you wish I had? “What got you through the pandemic?” The things that have helped get me through this pandemic are my workout crew – I strength train 3x/week, yoga 1x, and HIIT 1x – and my sweet little family at home: my partner Ty and our fur babies Eloise and Belle 🙂 ….and Oreos 🙂
Thanks, Ashley, for all you do for our campus and keeping us focused on our wellbeing!
(Miss past Meet A Deacs? Visit our archive.)