Everyone learns in different ways. Some like the lecture hall best; others prefer a more hands-on approach. Combining both strategies can give students a unique and beneficial experience. In hands-on learning opportunities—internships, service learning, and more—students have a chance to apply what they’ve learned in class to real-world situations; make an impact in the community; "test drive" a career or two; and learn valuable lessons about themselves, the community, and their careers. These valuable experiences are playing an increasingly large role in students’ education in the College of Health and Human Development. The broadened perspective students gain will give them an advantage in the job market.
Promoting Health among Students
Students in the college find many ways to improve other students’ quality of life through health promotion. By getting involved in the HealthWorks peer mentor program, a collaboration between the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) and Penn State’s University Health Services, students can design and implement initiatives that advocate smart health choices. Health- Works peer mentors can apply information they’ve learned in Biobehavioral Health, Health Policy and Administration, Kinesiology, and Nutrition courses in a realistic, practical way.
"It’s good to get experience like this before reaching the professional world," says Amy Tomasko, a Nutrition major and Health- Works peer mentor. "We get a lot of work with our interpersonal skills, and we also get practice working in a group and seeing how what we do can affect people."
At Penn State’s annual Green Health Week, HealthWorks peer mentors April Nickerson (L) and Candace White (R) shared tips on how to stay healthy while being environmentally aware, and they gave out eco-friendly items.
A main goal of the HealthWorks program is to "change the Penn State environment so that students can participate in healthy behaviors," says Dr. Linda LaSalle, associate director of educational services for UHS. This is especially important at college, as health plays a vital role in academic performance. HHD students who are peer mentors can improve not only their peers’ health, but their grades as well.
Tomasko led a team of mentors in promoting healthy nutrition, and she frequently looked to her course textbooks—and occasionally college faculty members—for support. Some of their projects included creating tips on making healthy meals with a microwave (which is the only cooking appliance many students have access to) and outlining easy ways to find credible nutrition information in popular magazines.
HealthWorks mentors work with a number of health topics relevant to college students—stress, physical activity, alcohol, tobacco, nutrition, sleep, sexual health, and global health. Queenna Damour, a Biobehavioral Health major and HealthWorks peer mentor, helped plan a health fair as a way to promote awareness of international health issues. The day-long event brought together representatives from various international service organizations on campus, such as the Global Medical Brigades and Project Haiti, to provide information to any Penn State student interested in helping out at the global level.
Peer mentors also gain valuable leadership experience by partnering with other health initiatives on campus, such as the HIV/AIDS Risk Reduction Advisory Council (HARRAC), which promotes positive sexual health.
"We try to make an impact now, and hopefully the people we talk with will be able to use that same information later in life," says April Nickerson ’10 NUTR, a HealthWorks peer mentor in the spring 2010 semester.