Senior, BCH student, Caitlyn Nicholas describes her experience as a peer education for the University Health Center's SHARE program.  

February 28, 2017

Each year, the University Health Center recruits students to be peer educators for several programs.  For Behavioral and Community Health students, this opportunity is a phenomenal way to gain valuable experience in the public health field.  Caitlyn Nicholas, a senior Community Health major highlights her favorite aspects of the peer program below.  Applications are being accepted now through March 6th for the peer education program.  For any questions please email:   HPandWS@gmail.com.  To learn more about the various programs and to apply visit:  http://health.umd.edu/peer-education

Blog post by Caitlyn Nicholas:

I was accepted into the Peer Education Program as a SHARE (Sexual Health and Reproductive Education) peer educator last spring and I began my experience as a peer educator at the University Health Center last August. The week before school started, all of the peer educators were required to attend a 40-hour training week. At times, all the peer groups were together learning general information about effective communication in health education and promotion. The rest of the time, we were broken up into our specific peer groups to learn content specific to our specialization areas. The four different specialization areas are Sexual Health, Power-Based Violence, Stress and Mental Health as well as Alcohol and Other Drug Use. Although a 40-hour training week seems like a lot, it went by very quickly and by the end I had gotten to know my supervisor as well as my fellow SHARE peer educators fairly well.  This training not only helped prepare me for what I would be doing the next two semesters, but it also gave me some insight on how important the work of peer educators is. The director of the University Health Center, Dr. David McBride and the director of The Stamp Student Union, Dr. Marsha Guenzler-Stevens came and spoke to us. They both gave compelling speeches that instilled the importance of the work of peer educators in me. Dr. Guenzler-Stevens shared a story about a student who caught her on her way to a meeting and asked her if she could talk. She was already running late, so she was reluctant stay back and talk but did nonetheless. Years later, she found out that the student who had came to her to talk was contemplating suicide and he said had she not stopped to talk to him that day, he would have gone through with it. Her message out of this story was that even though it may not seem like you’re making a difference, you are. After hearing her story, it became clear that as peer educators we have the potential to make a difference in someone’s life. This was when the meaningfulness of being a peer educator begun to sink in.

Throughout the first semester, the program was really focused on getting us comfortable and familiar with the content and presenting it. The program also aimed to get the peer educators familiar with the University Health Center and the services it offered. We were required to participate in five different UHC “engagements,” which were essentially services that the UHC offered such as, Wags for Wellness, nutrition counseling, free STI testing and meditation. The purpose of this was to familiarize us with UHC services so we would be knowledgeable of them and able to recommend them to students in need.

The first program I led was a table at the Denton Block Party on North Campus during the first week of school. Along with another peer, I worked the table for two hours, which seems like a bit of a long time since most shifts are only one hour, but the two hours flew by because it was so much fun. Some (most) people are noticeably uncomfortable coming up to the SHARE table because of the stigma attached to sex and condoms, so it takes a bit of practice making people feel more comfortable. I often saw people looking over, seemingly interested in the table but hesitant to come over. When I saw this happening I would give a smile and ask them if they would like some information on the health center services. I found this to be the least intimidating and most welcoming way to get people to come over to the table. Once one or two people came up, more would follow. One girl came up to my co-presenter and me after listening to us converse with other students for a few minutes. She thanked us for doing what we do even though she didn’t take any of the free condoms or participate in the game that was set up at the table. This provided a sense of meaning and purpose that reminded me the work of a peer educator is important and that it does make a difference.

As a SHARE Peer Educator, I give two different presentations and one kind of workshop, all of which are 50 minutes in length. Workshops and presentations are always hosted by two peers, which makes the process a lot more manageable and fun. The first presentation is unique to SHARE and is called “The Ins and Outs of Sex.” During this presentation consent, the different types of sexually transmitted infections and how they are transmitted, different types of contraception and other campus resources are discussed. The second presentation is called “Step UP!” and is presented by all of the peer groups. Step Up focuses on bystander intervention and teaches students how to be an active bystander when they see something that doesn’t look right. The workshop that SHARE hosts is called the “Safer Sex Workshop.” This workshop most often takes place in residence halls but is also offered to student organizations and groups. During the workshop a variety of fun, educational games are played that teaches participants about sexually transmitted infections and various birth control methods.

I had my first SHARE presentation within the first couple weeks of the semester. I was so nervous for it, but once the presentation got started, it wasn’t scary at all. While my first few presentations were a bit rocky, I got the swing of things very quickly and I believe most of my co-peers felt the same way. With each presentation, I became increasingly comfortable with both the content and myself as a presenter. No presentation is the same as the last; one of the great things about the peer education program is that it allows you to explore yourself as a presenter and health educator. Each presentation has a different audience and offers different challenges, but with practice I found how to better navigate various challenges. At the end of the semester I felt I had gained such great experience that I may have not been able to get until after I graduated. The first semester of the Peer Education Program really allowed me to begin exploring myself as a health educator and gave me a good foundation that I can now begin to build upon.