Between The Horns: Lessons learned

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You might have noticed a new banner is decorating the front page of Portland State’s website. It’s a an advertisement for 2012’s incarnation of the Bike to PSU challenge, an event that runs the course of May and includes numerous events aimed to get students to give up their cars and commute to school by bike.

A new website, biketopsu.com, has been set up for the event, and it features all kinds of social networking and stat tracking information. The hook for the event is the tracking component—students, by themselves or in teams, keep a log of their commute and rack up points to win weekly prizes. If this sounds familiar, its because it’s a similar concept to an event held a couple months back.

The Healthy U Wellness challenge, which lasted most of March, also had registration and statistical tracking. In that event, students and faculty kept track of exercise, healthy eating habits and event participation. These promotions all relate to the university’s healthy campus initiative, and they aren’t doing a bad job of getting the word out.

The Bike to PSU team expects more than 1,000 registrants for the 2012 iteration of the challenge. The Healthy U Wellness challenge had 365 registrants, in comparison. That might not sound like many on a campus with nearly 30,000 students, but it’s tough to get students at a school like PSU involved in almost any aspect of student life. That’s more students than vote for some Associated Students of Portland State University senators. For comparison, only 728 people showed up to the men’s basketball squad’s home playoff showdown with Montana State last month.

The Healthy U Wellness challenge awarded points for activities like exercising, getting enough sleep (something I imagine a lot of college students struggle with), brushing one’s teeth, and biking or walking to work or school instead of driving. The Bike to PSU challenge tracks miles, number of trips and percentage commuter trips. Some aspects of this are kind of hokey, but it’s hard to be too critical of them when the execution is so benevolent.

Also, when looking at the registration numbers, it’s important to remember the quality of participation, as well as the quantity. The student at the top of the leaderboards at the end of this year’s Healthy U Wellness challenge, Keahi Horowitz, or “poolsicle,” as he was known on the leaderboard, logged 533 points during the promotion, the equivalent of about 267 hours of exercise. More than 150 of the participants in the event ended up with more than 100 points logged at the end.

The ideas behind these events are fairly new. This was the second year for the Healthy U challenge. It improved on 2011 in several important ways that contributed to its success this year. Cutting the time for the event down (last year it ran for more than two months) and moving forward from the winter into the spring seems like good sense. The web team that worked on the site for this year’s Healthy U challenge also simplified the participation system to make it less of an effort for people to log their points, which is, again, important in keeping busy students engaged.

We’ll be watching the Bike to PSU challenge closely to see how it stacks up, participation-wise, but in a time where every program seems to be a mixed bag and budgets are tight everywhere, these health-conscious booster programs are doing a good job of improving student life on campus.

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