Vassar Today

Teaching Healthy Behavior

Wanting to better coordinate and expand its education efforts with students regarding alcohol, drug, and other health issues, Vassar College in December named William Kernan to the new post of health educator.

Kernan will coordinate health-related programming efforts on campus, provide advice and direction for health-related student peer groups, help reorganize a peer education group whose focus will be on alcohol and substance abuse prevention, chair the Drug and Alcohol Education Committee, and sit on the Health and Counseling Advisory Committee. Kernan is also planning to build a health education Website that will direct students to a number of health and wellness resources, both on and off campus, and will be a source of information for activities such as smoke-outs and the AIDS Walk.

“I want to reach out to students and challenge them to consider their behaviors,” he said in an interview in early March.

A spate of reported tragedies on many of the nation’s campuses—particularly related to student abuse of alcohol and drugs—has once again raised the profile of health education efforts at many colleges. At Vassar, a popular college-wide party was cancelled in its early hours last fall because of concerns about such abuse. Vassar’s administration and various student groups have addressed health issues in the past, but many have felt the need for better coordination of campus efforts. The Health and Counseling Advisory Committee, for example, last year expressed the need for an administrator whose focus would be helping students deal with issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and sexual and reproductive health. Last summer, the position now held by Kernan was defined and advertised.

Presently, the position, which is part of the office of the dean of students, is part-time. But Dean of Students D. B. Brown envisions it becoming a full-time job for someone whose responsibilities will include oversight of a health and wellness center. As yet, there is no timetable for that evolution.

Kernan said he has heard lots of great ideas for programs and activities from departments all over campus, from athletics to religious and spiritual life. He hopes to act as a “filter” and a “facilitator” for their ideas, using his extensive experience in health education to turn their ideas into successful programs.

He spent a year and a half working as a health educator for the Peace Corps in Malawi, East Africa, and was then hired by the United Nations World Food Program to work in Guinea, Africa, as a health-monitoring specialist. While in Africa, he wrote three nutrition manuals that were published by the United Nations and the Peace Corps and distributed to volunteers.

Kernan is currently working on his M.A. in public administration, with a concentration in health services, at Marist College, where he also continues to work full time as the area coordinator and resident director of the college’s first-year program. A certified American Red Cross instructor and a trained emergency medical technician, he is experienced at organizing and starting campus wellness fairs and programs.