December 11, 2012


College helps students chill

Dogs, massage devices, puzzles offer exam stress relief

CollegeBob Ellis/staff photographer
David Franke, SUNY Cortland professor of English and professional writing, looks on as SUNY Cortland junior Rachel Andrews gets a hug from his dog, Thor. Several dogs were brought in for a program to help students relieve stress during exam week.

Staff Reporter

SUNY Cortland junior Robin Tobin needed a break from final exams Monday.
The Rochester resident stopped at one of four booths containing dogs and their owners, set up in Jacobus Lounge at Brockway Hall. Having taken an exam at 8 a.m., two hours later she needed a break, and a yellow Labrador retriever named Tucker seemed happy to oblige.
“Two exams today, then four more this week,” Tobin said, stroking Tucker’s head as owner Kate Polasek, a kinesiology professor, smiled and listened. “The one this morning was in a health course.”
The occasion was Paws for Stress, a program the college’s advising office created a few years ago to offer stress relief during exam time at the semester’s end.
Around them, besides staff-owned dogs to pat, students could make items such as model bird houses or boxes with different shapes, or lie in a bed or sit in a chair that vibrated to relax their bodies. Out in the hall, they could sit at an “oxygen bar” and smell scented air.
Tobin transferred this semester from Rochester Institute of Technology, switching from an engineering major there to math education at SUNY Cortland. She said it was nice to pat not just Tucker, but the other three dogs — a poodle owned by Vice President for Student Affairs Gregory Sharer, a collie and golden retriever mix owned by writing professor David Franke, and a golden retriever owned by Teri Vigars, interim director of Academic Success and Achievement Program.
Vigars’ dog, 3-year-old C.J., spends every day at the ASAP offices, ready for depressed or anxious students to pat his head and stroke his fur. Vigars said studies have shown that petting a dog or cat can lower a person’s blood pressure.
“Students miss their dog or are anxious, they can come in and pat C.J.,” she said. “People know who he is but not who I am.”
That gave Vigars the idea for Paws for Stress, which had 900 people visit in the fall 2011 semester and 600 people last spring.
The beds, chairs and oxygen bar were managed by Will Smith, events specialist for Spintacular Enterprises of Asheville, N.C. Smith said he brings his devices to colleges all over the region at exam time.
Smith said he had been to SUNY Plattsburgh already and would go next to a college in Pennsylvania, then north to St. Lawrence University. Paws for Stress continued today.
The vibrating beds were called spinal exercisors and the chairs were massage chairs.
Three freshmen who share a triple room — Samantha Bindrim, Emilie Cooper and Meghan Kocijanski — glued together pieces to make bird house models about 4 inches high. Bindrim said she had one exam Monday afternoon in anthropology and would have several more, including two in one day.
“This isn’t easy, it’s actually stressing me out,” she said of the bird house. She decided to just assemble it and not worry about following instructions.
“I’m tired of following instructions,” she said to her roommates.
Kocijanski said her first exam was at 8 a.m. Monday and she would have three more scattered through the week, but Cooper said she also faces two exams in one day.
The three tried the oxygen bar, hooking plastic tubes to their noses and trying oxygen infused air scented with flavors. They said peppermint was their favorite.


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