The Triton Health Educators man a table during Pack the Stands on Feb. 6. Members include (front row, from left) Brittan Broski, Emma Spencer, Nyla Cauble and Kelli Rowland; and (top row, from left) Ben Hibbett, Melanie Harbaugh, Annie Vitale, Mona Badwan, Jessica Johnson, Brittany Hudzinski and Samuel Mugaya.(Photo by August Jennewein)

It was while working as a lifeguard in high school that Emma Spencer discovered she wanted to go into the nursing field.

“A little kid came running up to me saying he’d been stung by a bee,” she said. “After I gave him first aid and he walked away I got this overwhelming feeling. It just clicked.”

Spencer, who’s from Kansas City, Mo., now finds herself on the cusp of graduating this May from the College of Nursing at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. And her last year was certainly a busy one. In addition to being the president of the UMSL chapter of the Student Nurses Association, she also helped spearhead a new peer-education group on campus – Triton Health Educators. The group’s mission is to encourage health and wellness in the UMSL community through education, awareness and promotion.

The group’s primary focus is educating peers about the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs. While alcohol still tops the list of substance abuse issues on college campuses, prescription drug misuse is a growing problem.

The activities of the Triton Health Educators are funded through a grant from Partners in Prevention, the state’s higher education substance abuse consortium dedicated to creating healthy and safe college campuses.

Robin Kimberlin, UMSL’s social worker, obtained the funding to create Triton Health Educators and is also the group’s adviser. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Robin Kimberlin, UMSL’s social worker, obtained the funding through her hard work and is the group’s adviser. She’s also an alumna, who earned her master’s degree in social work from UMSL in May 2012.

“My light bulb moment was thinking of making the group part of a class,” Kimberlin said.

She contacted the College of Nursing and eventually paired up with UMSL assistant teaching professor Sheila Grigsby, who gave class credit to students in her community health course for participating in the peer-education group.

This was the group’s pilot year. It consists of 11 participants, all nursing students, who went through certified peer-education training, and hit the ground running spring semester.

Triton Health Educators have done outreach through classroom presentations, as well as manning booths and tables at events around campus. There’s a board game where the student matches the side effects to the drug and a fact or fiction game about various drugs and their effects. The group has been in attendance at Greek Life events, Pack the Stands and Mirthday.

“There were lots of bumps in the road, but overall I would definitely consider it a success,” Kimberlin said, reflecting on the group’s first year. “I attribute part of that to a very dynamic group of health educators.”

Spencer recalls a particularly rewarding peer-education experience that involved teaching through a skit performance.

“It was hilarious,” she said. “We had such a good time with that. Basically, what we wanted was a discussion forum. I don’t want to talk to you. You don’t want to hear me. Let’s talk together.”

Kimberlin adds that a lot of time students are unaware that they’re misusing prescription drugs.

“There’s a lack of knowledge and understanding. It’s not like students are partying with these drugs. They just didn’t know that ‘Oh, I just can’t take Adderall because I’m tired,’” she said.

And while this year’s focus was on prescription drug misuse, next year the group will add another focus area – safe dating.  Of the 11 participants 10 are graduating in May. The plan for next year is to recruit not just from the community health course, but to open the group up to the broader UMSL community and to non-nursing students.

“I’m really excited about that,” Kimberlin said.

As for her experience with the group, Spencer said it was fantastic and definitely gave her a competitive edge heading into her nursing career.

“I think it went great,” she said. “I think we did a lot in a little time. Did we make a difference? Maybe not a statistical difference, but we educated people.”

As for Spencer – she already has a job lined up after graduation. She was hired in April as a registered nurse  at SSM St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights, Mo., where for the past year she’s worked as a patient care technician.

The UMSL Experience

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.