SRU’s Boost Peer Educators help students rise above challenges during the pandemic
From left, Slippery Rock University students Leah Meszaros and Emma Flaherty and present “Re-Boost Your Brain” as part of programming for SRU’s Boost Peer Educators.
Sept. 10, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University offers students a myriad of resources to help them succeed that are delivered by faculty and staff, but sometimes students just need a boost from one of their own. They might want to talk through a problem they're dealing with outside of the classroom, they may need help making friends or they just prefer advice from another student. That's where Boost Peer Educators come in.
Boost is a group of certified peer educators from the SRU Student Support Office that focuses on students' personal, social and emotional well-being and development. They present programs, host events and share helpful strategies through social media.
The group was formed five years ago, but its presence on campus is even more critical for SRU students who need help adjusting or readjusting to college life after so many were isolated behind a computer screen or continue to experience stress during the pandemic.
"We all know that we have resources available on campus, but it feels so much easier to talk to your peers to ask for advice on handling a situation or just to say, 'Hey, I'm really struggling with this (issue),'" said Emma Flaherty, a senior music therapy major from Churchville, New York. "Especially now, it's really important for everyone to make sure they take time to reacclimate to the rest of the world after doing things they couldn't do before. It can be harder to give yourself a break because people are going to be pushing themselves past their limits."
Flaherty is one of eight Boost Peer Educators this semester, who come from a variety of majors and backgrounds. The BPEs are trained and certified through NASPA, which is the national association for student affairs professionals. They are paid to develop programming, either for specific campus groups, such as Residence Life or student organizations, or they host their own programs that open for anyone on campus to attend. There are also plans for Boost to start one-on-one peer mentoring, similar to what has been implemented in other SRU programs for leadership training, Jump Start and Peer Academic Coaching.
"We all experienced what lockdown felt like during the pandemic and we're still going through the pandemic, so our programs this fall are about getting back to (pre-pandemic) routines to be successful," said Earl Coburn, assistant director of student support outreach, who oversees Boost. "Students are coming in with a lot of different experiences as a result of the pandemic and how that affected them, so we're doing a lot of training and some programs this semester that will prepare our (BPEs) to meet with students one-on-one in the spring."
A recent example of a Boost program was "Re-Boost Your Brain," which addressed concerns about returning to in-person activities, arriving on campus for the first time despite being an SRU student for more than a year, and navigating the fall semester. The program, conducted in the Smith Student Center, was led by two BPEs: Flaherty and Leah Meszaros, a junior psychology major from Farmdale, Ohio.
"We talked about getting back to being a real person and not just someone using a computer or being (a square in a gallery) on Zoom," Meszaros said. "You almost have to rewire your brain. Maybe if you had class at 9 (a.m.) and you woke up at 8:55, there are things you have to think about or do, such as brushing your teeth or traveling to class. Or maybe you had brain fog from not socializing or doing the same thing every day (while at home). Either way, students are sitting in a classroom full of people and they weren't doing that for 18 months. It's a big change."
Another event that Boost is hosting is "Speed Friending," 5-7 p.m., Sept. 21, in the SSC Ballroom. This event is similar to speed dating where individuals rotate having timed conversations in a attempt to meet as many people as possible. Attendees will also learn tips for communicating and meeting new people.
"Now that we're back in person and we have people who may not have had a lot of interactions with others for the last 18 months, we'll offer some tips to connect with people and use some communication theory as a basis for that," Coburn said. "How do you have or start a conversation with someone, what is nonverbal communication and how do you detect it, and what do you do when you can't see somebody's face because they're wearing a mask?"
After attendees receive training, they'll be asked to try applying it through conversations with other students for three or four minutes.
"This would be a great program even before the pandemic, but in the midst of one, it can be a challenge to make connections," Coburn said. "Unfortunately, we have a class of students who mostly started at SRU on the computer, and as a result, they didn't get a chance to foster those connections that they would have otherwise made in the residence halls, classrooms or other places on campus."
More information about Boost, including links to its social media accounts and upcoming programs, as well as how students can apply to can become a BPE, is available on the SRU website. To contact Boost Peer Educators, email email@example.com or call the Office of Student Support at 724.738.2121.
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