Today@Sam Article

Student Peer Ambassadors Promote Campus Health

Dec. 2, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins

PHA Social

Sam Houston State University’s Peer Health Ambassador (PHA) program strives to connect students with selectively trained peer ambassadors on campus to educate them on a variety of health topics. This semester, the Office of Health Promotion engaged the program’s first group of ambassadors working under a full-time health education staff.

“I think this has been a great program because of the connection we have with the student body,” said PHA Yuliana Aguilar. “It’s an easy way for us to communicate with our peers on a level educators or authority figures might not be able to reach. It is a much easier way for them to speak about these topics without being embarrassed or intimidated.”

Aguilar and her fellow ambassadors have spent the semester educating their peers through various programs and events. One of their feature offerings were weekly “health huts,” in which they station themselves on campus to focus on areas of health and wellness targeted for the college population. Other ambassadors for the current school year include Debra Balandran, Brooke Brown, Braedon Smith and Gisele Velazco. They are led by Peer Education Specialist Paula Roberson and Student Health Center/Office of Health Promotion Director Erica Bumpurs.

The team has also visited multiple residence halls on campus to share information, mainly regarding sexual health and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They believe it is an important part of their job to be a resource for the younger students who have often just recently left home for the first time.

“Peer education on a college campus is a powerful tool for promoting healthier choices and impactful education content,” Bumpurs said. “NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, has a dedicated peer education program that our SHSU Office of Health Promotion participates in for education and training on best practices in peer education on college campuses.”

NASPA has been conducting a survey of peer educators for over 10 years and findings indicate students that serve in such roles during their higher education years show growth in the following domains: cognitive complexity, intrapersonal development, practical competence, civic engagement and knowledge acquisition and application.

Yuliana Aguilar

“Being able to speak to people about these topics has opened my perspective on how hard it can be,” said Aguilar, who plans to attend nursing school. “But the best thing about it is getting comfortable with them to a place they can be open. You can get somewhere with them that they wouldn’t go with others, like a kind of trust.”

The Office of Health Promotion (OHP) launched its formal peer education program in the fall and has a full-time staff member dedicated to the students’ efforts of orchestrating weekly events as well as programming and peer education through interactions and social media.

“These students are not only impacting health and wellness efforts on their campus but are also developing skills for career management such as time management, active listening and hands-on experience with developing and delivering educational content in an effective way,” Roberson said.

The OHP is also focused on growing and sustaining the program and will begin actively recruiting new ambassadors for the 2023-24 academic year when classes resume in the spring.

“Students from any major who are interested in impacting health and wellness through peer-to-peer education are encouraged to apply,” Roberson said.

The next application cycle will open in February of 2023 and run for roughly a month. Interviews will be held and the selection of the new team of PHA’s will be determined before the end of the Spring 2023 semester.

“I say go for it,” Aguilar said when asked what her message would be for students considering the ambassadorship. “This has been a fun yet productive get away from my focus to schoolwork and lectures on campus. It has been fun to learn about such health topics and be able to reciprocate the information to my fellow peers in an engaging and comfortable manner.”

Aguilar went on to praise the group’s comradery throughout the year as another reason to consider applying to be a PHA.

“We have all been able to contribute our unique talents to be successful in our work as PHA’s,” she said.

General requirements for applying and being interviewed for the opportunity to be an employed PHA through the OHP office include being a full-time student, maintaining a 2.5 GPA and committing to at least one year of engagement.

To connect with PHA and keep up to date on events or applying follow OHP on Instagram, TikTok or Twitter @SHSU_OHP.

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