FutureVU and a Healthier You!

Eric Kopstain, Vice Chancellor for Administration at Vanderbilt University, discusses FutureVU, the visionary land use planning initiative at Vanderbilt. He explains the goals of FutureVU and describes the many ways it is enhancing the health and wellness of faculty, staff, and students.

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Bridgette Butler:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I'm Bridgette Butler with Health Plus.  Today, I am speaking with Eric Kopstain, Vice Chancellor for Administration at Vanderbilt University, who is here to discuss with me "FutureVU," the visionary land use planning initiative at Vanderbilt University, begun in 2015.  Welcome, Eric.

Eric Kopstain:  Thank you very much, Bridgette.  Glad to be here with you today.

Bridgette Butler:  We appreciate you being here.  Eric, what is FutureVU?

Eric Kopstain:  FutureVU is Vanderbilt's campus land use plan, and I think it is really important to say that campuses and universities are really special places.  They really shape the experiences of undergraduates while they live here and learn here.  Alumni, when they come back to campus, reminisce about Vanderbilt as a place, and our campus land use plan is about how we use our buildings, our facilities, our landscapes, and our precious resource of land to support the Academic Strategic Plan of the institution, and thereby support our goals of research, teaching, innovation, and learning.

Bridgette Butler:  What a beautiful resource it is!  So, why was there a need for FutureVU?

Eric Kopstain:  You know, if you look at campus histories, it is actually quite typical for universities to embark on campus land use sometimes called "Master Planning Efforts."  Every 20 to 30 years, sometimes these kinds of planning studies coincide with the change in administration - say, a new Chancellor or a new President comes along, but why now for FutureVU here at Vanderbilt?  There is actually three really big reasons.  One reason is that Nashville, as you know, as a place, is absolutely booming.  We have 100 people moving here a day, according to some statistics, more cranes than virtually anywhere in the country.  We have a big transportation and sustainability dialogue going on across the city and the region and it is important for Vanderbilt, I think, as a citizen of the region, to participate proactively in those dialogues and to find win-win opportunities to improve the conditions here on campus for our students, our faculty, and our staff, that also accrue value to the city's objectives and make the region a better place.   Now, another reason is the recent separation of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University has enabled the university to reassess its land use in ways that are very specific to the university as a place. And the third reason is that about four years ago we published an Academic Strategic Plan, which was led by our Provost, our Chancellor, and our Board of Trust, and so we actually have a well-articulated set of goals and visions for our academic enterprise here, and FutureVU comes in, as I said earlier, to support that vision through appropriate facilities, landscapes, and making Vanderbilt, as a place, really help us accomplish our academic mission. 

Bridgette Butler:  How does FutureVU seek to enhance the overall well-being of faculty, staff, and students?

Eric Kopstain:  When we think about the campus as a place, we are really trying here to create connections and have opportunities for people to interact across the campus community and establish healthy connections with the environment and with each other.  So, that is thematic to everything that we are doing.  Of course, another key part of our planning is around inclusivity and accessibility.  I think one of the challenges of our campus as a place, is, while it is very, very beautiful, some of the topography and hilliness can make it difficult for people to really enjoy the full impact of the campus.  So, FutureVU is very much centered around addressing those kinds of issues.  Vanderbilt is also a park-like setting and a highly-walkable campus.  So, we always want to encourage people to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the arboretum and take advantage of the pathways.  We have recently introduced a dockless bike sharing program to encourage health and well-being and also help people be able to get across the campus more quickly, and that has proven to be really popular and successful so far.  And another big aspect of this has to do with sustainability, so, really thinking about the triple bottom line in terms of how we make investments and buildings that are beyond just what is the financial impact of this, but what is the environmental and health and wellness impact of the kinds of facilities we want to create.  And to expand on that a little bit, one of the projects that has come out of FutureVU is an expansion and renovation of the School of Nursing, and I am proud to say that the nursing school expansion will be the first "WELL Certified" building in the state of Tennessee.  I like to say it is kind of a nutrition label for the interior qualities of a building and what it is like to be an occupant in that building and takes into account a whole variety of factors, such as air, water availability, nourishment, the quality of the light, how the building encourages you to walk and to be active, and I think that the certification we expect to get for that space is a really proactive leadership step.

Bridgette Butler:  In addition to that, what aspects of FutureVU can faculty and staff embrace to enhance their well-being?

Eric Kopstain:  One of the things that we are trying to promulgate is the use of fewer plastic bottles, and we have been very proactively putting in filling stations across the campus, with many more planned, and the environmental impact of actually using a sustainable water container is actually really, really big and something really simple that anybody can embrace, and that is something I hope people across the campus (faculty, students, and staff) all embrace.  I also think that ... you may have noticed that we have done a series of "pop-up parks" to activate underutilized parts of the campus and I think it is really great to see faculty, students, and staff just simply get outside and enjoy these spaces and really be out there in the sunlight, you know, having conversations with colleagues and friends.  I think a lot of studies show that the more time you spend outside, the healthier your lifestyle can become. So, as part of our plan, we have been thinking a lot about connectivity across the campus and how do we make the connections between the different sections of campus a little easier to traverse at the pedestrian level, and a little more rational.  So, what is interesting is we have introduced "OFO," a dockless bike sharing program, and you can basically download an app, use one of these bikes, and ride around on campus, which is not only healthy, but we will be able to collect data about where people are riding, and that can really help us inform future investments in campus infrastructure (i.e. - where should the bike paths go), and we will actually know, with the kind of data and information we are harvesting from the bike share experiment, where people are actually wanting to ride their bikes all the time, and then we can create things like dedicated bike lanes on campus as part of green ways and really make it more safe for pedestrians and bicycles to coexist here on campus.

Bridgette Butler:  It sounds like FutureVU is really taking into account the beauty of the campus, the accessibilities of the campus, and also encouraging people to get outdoors and be more active, and really attending well to future health and wellness of Vanderbilt faculty and staff.  Thank you so much for taking time today to speak with us.

Eric Kopstain:  Thank you, Bridgette.

Bridgette Butler:  Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at health.wellness@vanderbilt.edu, or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at www.vumc.org/health-wellness