Help college students learn HIV/STD prevention

Expand the learning opportunities of college students by finding innovative ways to teach them the importance of preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), advocate participants in a national program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Preven tion in Atlanta.

Whether it's having students compile figures on AIDS trends for a statistics class, design a World Wide Web page on HIV/STD prevention, or serve as peer educators on the college campus and local communities, institutions of higher learning are finding ways to put health on the table as a topic of discussion, explains Nan Ottenritter, MS, MSW, project coordinator for the Bridges to Healthy Communities, the CDC-funded project of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, DC.

Once the visibility of these health messages is raised, comprehension and knowledge of the need for HIV/STD protection follows, Ottenritter says. Translation of this knowledge into behavior change is the goal of the CDC-funded programs.

Some colleges and universities may have had some form of health education available in their student health centers, but the CDC funding has allowed the message to be spread in a variety of ways, says Dee Braver, MS, assistant project director at the American College Health Associa tion in Baltimore. This comprehensive approach brings campuses and communities together to tackle the behaviors that lead to HIV/STD risks.

Some colleges are performing baseline surveys to understand the scope of health risk behaviors, while others are starting up or enhancing their peer education programs, Braver says. No matter the choice, the schools involved in the project are finding ways to reach not only their students, but the communities in which they live as well.

With some 11,500 students moving through its campus, Santa Barbara (CA) City College has a challenge as a community college to reach its mobile population, says Susan Broderick, RN, director of student health services. It has found success through Project HOPE, "Helping Others through Peer Education." Group participants use a variety of methods to get the message out on HIV/STD awareness, alcohol and drug abuse, sexuality and relationships, healthy eating, and stress management.

Santa Barbara City College is using its American Association of Community College/CDC funding to encourage "service learning." This concept allows students to earn credit in academic courses such as English, Spanish, psychology, sociology, and statistics by earning community services hours in health-based pursuits in lieu of a term paper, midterm exam, or project already existing in the curriculum.

Students in the Santa Clara project must complete 25 hours of service, keep a journal throughout the project, and write a paper or make a classroom presentation to correlate the curriculum objective to their experiences, Broderick says.

"It's been one of the most exciting projects that I have worked on because it really ties that health issue into the classroom," she says. "It is the best connection we have made."

Project HOPE students raise HIV/AIDS awareness in several ways. They use "Chalk It Up" competitions with eye-catching sidewalk chalk art and prizes to get the attention of passing students about HIV prevention. An ongoing monthly project features checkpoint tables, where peers sit in high-traffic areas with information, banners, and an interactive activity to get students thinking about health risks. "For example, we'll have a big mural that says, `How can you fight the spread of AIDS?'" Broderick explains. "People will come and write in their answers. That engages them in thinking about the problem. Then they talk to the peers and get information."

One peer educator draws a regular two-frame comic strip on health subjects for the campus newspaper, while others may put together advertisements to run in local high school annuals. Project HOPE members are involved in making community presentations to local youth groups and campus organizations.

"Safe Spring Break" at Santa Barbara Commu nity College this year promoted volunteerism, coordinating volunteer opportunities with about 15 community agencies. Students could work with agencies such as an AIDS hospice during the break or sign up for community work throughout the year.

"We are very actively involved in the community," Broderick says. "I think that really makes a difference in the success of our programs."

School adds HIV tests

Northwestern University, which maintains two campuses in downtown Chicago and Evans ton, IL, has used the American College Health Association/CDC funding to perform its first survey of health risk behaviors, says Patti Lubin, RN, BSN, co-director of health education. While the survey is helping target appropriate interventions, students are taking advantage of one service instituted through the project: free and anonymous HIV testing performed on campus by the Evanston Health Department. The weekly tests are offered in the student health center and promoted through posters and advertisements in the campus newspaper.

Peer education is a strong component of Northwestern's approach to raising HIV/STD awareness. Some peer health educators work with different campus and community organizations, while others serve as health aides within their respective dormitories, sororities, and fraternities. Still others work with the Women's Health Center in offering information on contraceptive options.

"Fireside chats," evening presentations by the peer educators, spread the word, as do innovative special events such as the "Sex Olympics," where students test their knowledge of sexual health issues such as abstinence and correct condom appli cation. Peer educators recruited students into teams to compete on sexual health-related issues, Lubin explains. One event used a relay race theme on correct condom application.

"They give out information in a fun and interactive way," Lubin says of the peer educators. "They do a great deal in getting the word out."