Messages about staying healthy are delivered to students at Rochester Institute of Technology by people students can easily connect with: their peers.
“Research supports that these conversations outside of a classroom, with people students can easily relate to, enable students to learn best from them,” said Colleen Holcomb, Advocacy Specialist of health in well-being. “It just resonates differently with them when the discussions about behavior change and harm reduction strategies come from other students.”
New this year is the Student Wellness Ambassador Team, the next generation of the RIT Ready Crew that was originally created to educate students in response to the COVID pandemic by reminding them to wear masks. , to wash your hands frequently and to keep distance when possible.
The Student Wellness Ambassador team now encourages students to take time out of their day to perform a health-related activity, such as stress relief, taking a break, or even making essential oil rolls, which emit odors that can evoke feelings of relaxation.
“Our job is to spread happiness and awareness,” said Grace Gerber, a fourth-year medical illustration student in Shawnee, Kansas, and student wellness ambassador. She will walk around campus or be stationed at events with other ambassadors holding signs of encouragement and reminders for students to stay healthy while actively engaging with students on topics related to good. to be happening at the event or happening this week.
“We set up our table, checked in on the students, and talked to them a bit about mental health awareness,” Gerber said. “We are mainly here to put smiles on people’s faces and lift their spirits.”
Team members also have cutouts of RIT President David Munson and RIT mascot RITchie for students to pose with. Their signs carry messages encouraging students to think about their mental well-being, such as “You are making a difference”, “Today is a new day”, “Drink more water” and “It’s okay to crash sometimes. Tacos sometimes fall apart and we always love them.
The team is also handing out snacks and “goodies,” including rubber duckies with designs, pencil bags, hand sanitizer, Goldfish crackers, popcorn, and even “play it safe” kits. with condoms and lube.
The team also helps with collaborative programs such as Bow Wow Wellness, where therapy dogs visit campus once a month to interact with students.
“I think it brightens people’s day,” Gerber said.
Another successful initiative focused on student well-being is that of peer wellness educators. Launched in 2019, the program trains students to connect with their peers to speak candidly about topics such as alcohol and drug education, sleep hygiene, sexual health, mental wellness, stress management, suicide prevention, how to party safely and social connections.
Student educators, five to 10 per semester, all undergo training provided by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Upon completion, students host weekly workshops or are available at interactive information tables set up at campus events.
Although peer educators are trained to talk about advice and strategy, they don’t do advice, Holcomb said.
“We do a program related to alcohol awareness,” she said. “We focus on harm reduction strategies. We want them to make informed choices. So we educate them on what a perceived serving size is versus an actual serving size, how they correlate to blood alcohol content or hangovers, and how drinking alcohol can impact their school performance.
Peer educators are trained in outreach strategies and communication skills, including bystander intervention, active listening, and open-ended questions to help promote dialogue on wellness topics. And they are able to refer students to health services that provide higher levels of care if needed.
Holcomb said educators hosted 78 programs for students in the past academic year, partnered with other groups on campus 25 times, and offered 23 activity workshop programs. More are planned for this year.
Information is shared on social media, in campus groups, or at information tables in public places, such as the Fireside Lounge, in quads, or the Alumni Union lobby. The Student Wellness Ambassador Team and Peer Wellness Educators host weekly wellness events on Wednesdays and Fridays to promote stress relief, social connection and more.
Students who may be interested in joining SWAT or the Wellness Peer Educators program for the fall semester can apply by March 14.