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Health group uses iTouch to reach out to students

By : Erin Owens

Through student outreach programs and new technology, REACH peer educators are trying to get their name recognized and their message heard throughout campus.

REACH, which stands for Real Education About College Health, is a program designed to heighten awareness and deepen understanding about health issues that affect the lives of college students.

“We want to put a person in it; make it more real for students,” said Bridget McCane Saunders, associate director for health education.

The program was developed in 1999 by McCane Saunders, and was the first college health program to use street outreach. Since then, several other colleges and universities, including Cornell, Temple and Columbia, have created similar programs modeled after Binghamton’s program.  

“It’s really caught on,” McCane Saunders said. “It proves you are successful when others replicate your work.”

Although she is the developer of the program, McCane Saunders said the students do most of the work. She guides and supports them, but “most of it comes from them,” she said.

The REACH peers are interns who are selected and trained in health issues, and there are about 18-24 peers each semester. One peer educator, Caitlin Watkins, a psychology major, said that working with the program has made her become more comfortable talking about health issues that she might have been embarrassed talking about before, and wants others to become more comfortable as well.

“We’re going through the same things as other students,” said the junior from Narrowsburg. “We can understand them.”

McCane Saunders said the program’s success lies in the fact that it is different than classroom-style teaching. Instead of waiting for students to come to them for information, the peer educators bring the information to the students, approaching them around campus, on campus buses and at the University Downtown Center.

“This way, you approach someone and you engage them and meet them where they are,” she said.

During street outreach, the peers are armed with tote bags full of information and resources, as well as risk reduction materials, such as cold and flu prevention kits, condoms and tobacco quit kits.

Some health issues the REACH peers deal with are drugs and alcohol, stress management and sexual health.  In addition to the street outreach, the REACH peers use “dorm storms” to teach students living in residence halls about health issues, which, the peers said, have been very successful. 

“The students feel more comfortable in their own environment,” Watkins said.

Recently, the REACH peers have been using modern technology to enhance their message and connect with more students. The peers made informative and entertaining videos relating to specific health issues, and use iTouch devices to show students during their outreach programs. 

Brad Gordon, graduate assistant to the program, said “We have fun with the videos, but we are still getting our message across.”

The student affairs graduate student from Apalachin has been involved with creating the four videos that the program has, and plans to create more.  The videos are Accessing Healthcare, a Flu Shot PSA, Germ Free and How to Use a Male Condom, and the group is now working on a How to Use a Female Condom video. Some of the videos can be seen on the Binghamton University YouTube page, as well as the REACH
Facebook page.

The iTouch has been a successful tool in teaching students on campus about health issues, said Tristin

Cadle, a junior nursing student from the Bronx. 

“We live in a world full of new technology, and people are more visual,” she said.  “Seeing the iTouch intrigues people.”

The REACH internship, worth four credits, only lasts one semester, but many of the peer educators continue to be involved with REACH on a volunteer basis after their internship is over.

Watkins and Cadle both did their internships last year, but are still involved with the program, and consider REACH to be a “second family.” 

“Nothing can keep me away from this place,” Cadle said.

Although Gordon graduates this semester, he hopes the program will continue to grow, and that other departments will be encouraged to use the technology that the REACH program has used. 

Overall, McCane Saunders believes the street outreach and iTouch technology have allowed REACH to enhance its ability to reach students.

“We have provided outreach to thousands of students and given out over 5,000 kits,” she said. “This is public health at its finest.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08