A dedicated group of Franklin & Marshall College students is taking public health beyond the classroom, helping peers navigate wellness in a particularly challenging year.
Five F&M students served as peer health educators in the 2020-21 academic year, providing advocacy and education on campus regarding COVID-19, mental health and other wellness concerns.
“As non-college students, we don’t understand exactly what students are going through in the same way as a peer does. Peer health educators offer a really unique perspective,” said Kathryn Wanner, director of student wellness education and violence prevention.
The 2020-21 peer health educators include rising seniors Hala Reeder and Hermela Assefa and 2021 graduates Caroline Tippett, Sarah Laterza and Shannon Cunningham.
Each certified peer health educator (PHE) completes a twelve-hour, eight-module training course through NASPA, a national association for student affairs.
PHEs plan virtual education programming, social media outreach and on-campus events. Each educator chooses an area of focus surrounding alcohol and substance abuse prevention, mental health, sexual violence prevention, and more recently, COVID-19 education.
“I was inspired to make impactful change on campus surrounding wellness. I was, and still am, excited to become better trained on health matters and how to help others,” Reeder said.
PHEs often partner with campus offices to reach a broader audience.
Assefa and Cunningham collaborated with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Counseling Services, and outside mental health clinicians to host a personalized training for F&M students of color. Tippett co-facilitated campus-wide training to bring faculty and staff into the conversation about student mental health.
Additionally, PHEs hold virtual “drop-in” office hours for students who are hesitant to contact – or unsure of where to find – wellness resources on campus.
“We really look for students that could have an impact and be leaders in the community,” Wanner said. “I don't consider it a small role.”
Below, meet the peer health educators who helped the F&M student body navigate wellness in 2020-21.
Caroline Tippett ’21
Peer health area of focus: Sexual health, mental health
What’s next? Postgraduate research associate at Yale School of Medicine
What inspired you to become a peer health educator? As a STEM major, I've realized the importance of accessibility to information and resources, and I'm passionate about wellness and science communication. Academia can be inaccessible, and I hope to be part of breaking down barriers of inequity. I want to do research in my career that will not just help people, but involve people, and as a peer health educator I have seen many ways members of our community act as part of the greater public health.
Hala Reeder, senior
Major: Public health and French
Peer health area of focus: Sexual health
Summer plans: Working in the New Mexico Human Services Department to analyze data for state agencies
What inspired you to become a peer health educator? In high school, I was part of a team of students that held a peer support class-period everyday. This was the beginning of my peer support education, and I was immediately interested in becoming part of the peer health educator program when I saw the job posting my first year at F&M. I was inspired to make impactful change on campus surrounding wellness. I was, and still am, excited to get better trained on health matters and how to help others.
Hermela Assefa, senior
Major: Public health (sociology)
Peer health area of focus: Addressing health disparities and advancing health equity
Summer plans: CDC Undergraduate Health Scholars (CUPS) scholar through the University of Michigan’s Future Public Health Leaders program
What inspired you to become a peer health educator? As a public health major, I wanted to gain more hands-on experience and was looking for a platform where I could apply the knowledge and skills that I was learning in the classroom. When I was a housing advisor my sophomore year, I saw a need for increased culturally-competent health education and health promotion on campus amongst my peers, so I wanted to address some of the barriers to health and wellness on campus.
Sarah Laterza ’21
Major: Public health and Spanish
Peer health area of focus: Violence prevention (such as Title IX education), sexual health, eating disorders
What’s next? Pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Boston College (macro track specializing in children, youth and families)
What inspired you to become a peer health educator? I wanted to get more involved on campus in a way that can help the health and wellness of my peers. I saw many gaps in the health education among the students and I wanted to make sure we had people on campus and in the wellness center who can address those gaps.
Shannon Cunningham ’21
Major: Creative writing and moral psychology
Peer health area of focus: Mental health
What’s next? Applying to nursing school with the goal to further passion for mental health awareness and support by becoming a psychiatric nurse
What inspired you to become a peer health educator? I became a peer health educator fairly late in my college career. This past year, I was inspired by the work that the Office of Wellness Education and Violence Prevention did in order to increase awareness around mental health and sexual assault. Given the vast amount of resources F&M has regarding these issues, I was impressed by the ways peer health educators made these resources easily accessible by facilitating dialogues and events that normalize talking about otherwise daunting topics.
“We really look for students that could have an impact and be leaders in the community."