Students inclined to take better control of their health amidst the chaos of the upcoming semester can find solace and help in Curry Health Center’s new program, Optimal Bear.

Started by University of Montana graduate Kayli Peterson as an internship with the Curry Health Center, the Optimal Bear program provides “health coaching” to students free of charge. Optimal Bear pairs UM students with a trained coach who helps them reach personalized fitness, nutrition, stress management or other health-related goals.

“Health coaching is a new term that people are just now starting to hear,” Peterson said. “Our coaches work individually with students for six weeks to help them achieve personal goals to be healthier.”

As an internship the program did not have much funding until a series of outside do- nations secured Optimal Bear as an integrated part of the Health Enhancement department of the Curry Health Center, Peterson said.

“I have always had an interest in health, but no specific aspect of it,” Peterson said. “I wanted to apply an aspect of health that was more peer-to-peer conversing and interacting, and less of someone just coaching or instructing.”

The concept of Optimal Bear is to have students address goals they have for their health and then have peer coaches present them with a variety of tools to achieve those goals, Peterson said.

“As coaches we do what is motivational interviewing,” said health enhancement employee and UM graduate, Brent Hildebrand. “We figure out what you want to do through this interview and then we go through the plethora of possibilities to help students achieve their goals.”

Coaches are primarily health and human performance majors who have a strong interest in helping other and themselves, said Peterson.

After the coaches are selected, they go through training that Peterson designed during her summer internship.

“It’s funny but the first training was sort of the guinea pig trial,” Peterson said. “This last training was much more concrete in how to interact with clients and help them recognize what they want to work on.”

Peterson said that during the first year of Optimal Bear, the program saw 13 student clients. This year she reports that Optimal Bearis meeting with 18 students and therefore has had to increase the amount of student coaches she hires.

“The training that Kayli designed for us was super easy to understand,” said health and human performance major and Optimal Bear student employee, Lauren Morse. “Kayli herself is super organized and taught us how to ask open-ended questions through different examples and role playing.”

The program is also allowing student coaches to help implement new programs to offer to their student clients.

“I am working on a project that is based on UCLA’s program called ‘Fitted’,” Morse said. “I kind of refer to it as an Optimal Bear boot camp where we will try to implement all aspects of the Optimal Bear program; like nutrition, stress man- agement, and fitness, in a series of classes.”

Yet Peterson said she is unsure of the future of Optimal Bear and whether it will end or flourish.

“I would like to eventually make this a statewide program that can be implemented in many of the universities,” Peterson said. “Teach- ing students how to be healthy all-around is important to me because it can help many with the daily stresses of life as a student.”

The Optimal Bear program is located in the health enhancement office of the Curry Health Center and is free to all University of Montana students. To make an appointment with a health coach, students can call 406-243-2809 or email

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