Published November 13, 2019 by Rebecca Goldfine

"Wellcare" Practitioner Kate Nicholson Joins Bowdoin

As she steps into the relatively recent position of assistant director of student wellness programs, Kate Nicholson has many ideas about how to help every student take care of their body, mind, and spirit.
Kate Nicholson

For the past seven years, Kate Nicholson has been offering yoga classes at Bowdoin. (She's also treated many students and college employees at her local healing arts practice.)

"So I've been like a leaf on a branch of the tree of Bowdoin," she said, "and I've always been drawn to the people and the community."

Plus, she added, while the healthcare industry is rife with "sickcare" work, the opportunities to practice "wellcare" are rarer but equally important. She began as Bowdoin's director of student wellness programs this fall.

Because the position was just formed last year, Nicholson has a wide canvas to try out new programs to appeal to many different students. A message she's eager to convey is that wellness encompasses a broad array of behaviors and habits, and that anyone—no matter their fitness, body type, background, financial means, or busy schedule—can participate.

"The perception of wellness right now in the Bowdoin community is quite narrow in that it is branded as a niche and a specialty that only attracts a certain subset of people," she said, adding that one common stereotype is of a mellow yoga studio filled with "stretchy bodies."

Nicholson, who grew up in Bangor, Maine, calls herself "a teacher by trade and nature." She earned her bachelor's degree in education and Spanish from Haverford College, and then spent two years in Madagascar as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English.

Afterward, she moved to Costa Rica, where she met her husband, a fellow Mainer. In 2005, they returned to the US to take teaching jobs at Cape Cod Academy in Massachusetts. Nicholson taught upper-school Spanish.

In time, they left Cape Cod for Maine to raise their two daughters closer to family. Nicholson opened her integrative healing business nine years ago, offering massage, Reiki, essential oil therapy, yoga, and nutrition counseling. Yoga has been very important to her since she discovered the practice in her twenties, and it will continue to be an important component to wellness programs at Bowdoin.

"Yoga helped me work on landing and being still and centering, which helped me create a sense of home. Because you can do it anywhere," she said. "Yoga helped me find my way and my inner compass."

She is determined to change that. "Part of my mission is campaigning, educating, and demonstrating that wellness is this beautiful, broad concept that is meant to hold all of you, all of the student. And at the heart of it is learning how to take really good care of yourself," she said.

Though college students are typically young and mostly healthy, some lifestyle choices are not always conducive to staying well. Late nights, a heavy workload, cramming for exams, partying—all of it takes a toll.

"The academic setting of intense deadlines and the need to achieve and execute high levels of work adds up to a lot of stress," Nicholson said. "And even someone who feels comfortable with themselves will feel challenged at times, sometimes to a debilitating extent."

Nicholson wants wellness programs at Bowdoin to be enjoyable, convenient, and welcoming. Many of them will address anxiety and stress—a common ailment among students.

"It doesn't have to be another task—like, I have to read twelve chapters by Friday and take care of myself? Ugh!" she said. "I want wellness at Bowdoin to feel really relevant to individuals and student groups, to be safe and inviting, so you don't have to fit into a particular image or mold to qualify—and we will adapt our offerings of wellness to meet anyone where they're at."

Nicholson is reaching out to Residential Life to help her work with small groups in an effort to connect with many different students. To that end, she's also open to collaborating with athletic teams and is already offering yoga to the women hockey players. She also wants to start offering Reiki as well as acupuncture, and she plans to expand wellness programs—such as partner and self-massage workshops—during reading period and exams.

Additionally, Nicholson wants to provide more initiatives around healthy body image and eating, addressing an issue that is often hidden. She also wants to support students who wish to explore healing practices more deeply by making it possible for them to attend off-campus retreats or training sessions.

"I want to enrich the wellness resources for students to tap into in a way that feels good to them," she said. "Everything isn’t for everybody—so it’ll be about expanding the buffet of wellness."