Top Honors for 'All the Buzz'

By Aaliyah Weathers

Top Honors for 'All the Buzz'

By Aaliyah Weathers
William W. Sandler Jr. Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education earns national recognition for its interactive, peer-designed program.

Before the launch of “So What’s All the Buzz About,” incoming freshmen attending the University of Miami’s New Student Orientation program would typically hear from a speaker about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Now they rotate through five interactive sessions in a format that has earned the William W. Sandler Jr. Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education national recognition for its innovative approach to orientation programming.

Now in its second year, “So What’s All the Buzz About” was one of five programs to receive an Outstanding Program award from BACCHUS Initiatives, a division of NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education that focuses on collegiate peer educators and advisors.

“This program really allows the peer educators to be at the forefront of first-year student conversation,” said Whitney Platzer O’Regan, assistant dean of students and director of the Sandler Center. “Our conversation is never ‘Don't drink.’ Our conversation is, ‘If you choose to drink, we want to give you the skills to make sure you are able to take care of yourself and your friends.’”

Before arriving on campus, first-year students complete online modules related to drug and alcohol awareness. When they attend New Student Orientation, “So What’s All the Buzz About” complements the modules they learned by engaging them in thought-provoking, hands-on sessions.

In one session about social norms, participants text answers to questions that are designed to debunk myths about campus culture and issues of drug and alcohol safety. In another session, participants are asked to pour what they believe to be the standard drink of wine, beer, and liquor to compare their perceptions to the true measurements. A third activity gives students the chance to experience different levels of impairment with goggles that simulate specific blood alcohol levels.

Peer educators not only facilitate most of the sessions, they also play an integral role in planning the program so it best represents the current climate on campus.

“I love the fact that we get to influence the campus culture and make a positive change in the community with regards to drug and alcohol education,” said Erika Rogers, one of five undergraduate peer educators at the Sandler Center.

For Alexander Klar, who is also a peer educator, along with Annie Cappetta, Madison Guido, and Milind Khurana, the greatest reward is “just being able to speak to students and have conversations that I don’t think happen enough to help people make better decisions.”

In addition to the undergraduate educators, O’Regan’s staff this year also includes two graduate students, Master of Science in Education candidate Samantha Martin and Master of Public Health candidate Rachel Askowitz.

“The work that the peer educators do is often unrecognized, so it’s really nice on a national level for the peer educators to be recognized for the amount of hard work, thoughtfulness, and care they take in making sure their peers are staying safe on this campus,” O’Regan said.

The award was presented to the Sandler Center in November at the BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA General Assembly, an annual event that gathers professionals and students from across the nation to exchange ideas about peer education programming.