Meditation corner, prayer room provide a sense of peace

Penn State Hazleton has created designated spaces for students seeking quiet areas to meditate, relax or pray: a meditation corner in the library and a prayer room in Chestnut College.

Although the spaces are open throughout the semester, finals week is an ideal time for weary students to take a few moments to unwind and regroup.

"We realize that students are deeply involved in academics as well as a variety of other pursuits and could use an opportunity to quiet their minds. Creating peaceful, meditative spaces is conducive to our philosophy of developing the whole student," said Chancellor Gary Lawler.

Counselor Debra Jemo said, "We needed spaces for quiet areas on campus. The meditation corner and prayer room have met that need."

In collaborating on the design of the meditation corner in the library - an ideal quiet setting, Advanced Care Practitioner Tara Trout, PA-C, researched wellness initiatives and how to incorporate them at the Hazleton campus.

"I wanted to bring something like this to Penn State Hazleton, knowing the many benefits that relaxation and meditation could provide for students, faculty and staff alike," she said.

Director of Student Services and Engagement Tracy Garnick said the development of the meditation corner and prayer room was funded through the student recreation facility fee, money that is allocated to renovate or enhance areas outside of the classroom for students.

"People make recommendations for certain projects at the campus. These were two of the proposals that were submitted. Our students are invested in the projects, believed in them and voted to approve them," she said.

The meditation corner features a calm, comfortable setting with leather chairs and is stocked with items conducive to relaxation. Books on a range of topics from stress management to meditation to humor line the shelves. Stress balls and ginger candy are set out on a table. Two iPods loaded with meditation tunes and programs can be checked out from library staff.

Two computers, set up by campus Information Technology staff, offer computer software that complements the setting. One of the programs, emWave, connects a sensor placed on the ear to the computer to measure heart rate variability and provides tutorials to manage stress based on the resulting relaxation response. The other, TestEdge, is geared specifically for people with test anxiety. It provides a series of videos, information and hints that are helpful at easing that anxiety.

The variety of items was selected with the goal of offering relaxation methods suitable for everyone's style.

"Everybody has their own way to relax and unwind, whether it's listening to music, reading a book or just sitting in a quiet area," Trout said.

Garnick thanked the library staff for providing a dedicated space and assisting in getting the meditation corner set up.

Student Haley Deorio said library staff told her the meditation corner was a relaxing and comfortable place to study and she thinks it is an excellent addition to the library and campus.

"Every time I have a serious test, hard homework, or just need to be alone and relax, I will go to the meditation corner. It's secluded and I feel comfortable. It's a great place to really get to focus on your work but also to relax. Even though I'm in the library, the furniture and setting reminds me of being home and comfortable," she said.

In Chestnut Cottage is a quiet space of another type: a prayer room. Garnick described the functionality of each of the two spaces, saying, "The meditation corner was designed to help students relax and manage stress while giving them the resources to do it. The prayer room is specifically meant to be more personal and private."

The suggestion to create the prayer room came from the campus Diversity Affairs Committee in considering the religious needs of Penn State Hazleton students, particularly international students, and creating an area set aside for nondenominational religious use.

The space was designed to accommodate needs of all denominations with chairs, cushions and a prayer rug available. It can be used by individuals or smaller groups of students. As the building is always open, the prayer room is accessible at all times.

"Since trees and nature seem to be themes that run across religion, we chose them for our d├ęcor. We wanted to establish a quiet space that would bring the outside in," Garnick said.

Jemo said, "The themes of nature provide a calming, centering feeling in this room," describing it as a "contemplative, spiritual setting" without the distractions of technology.

Garnick said the project was made possible through the student recreation facilities fee and the campus maintenance department, who outfitted the room with carpet and fresh paint.