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Katharine Mooney describes BU’s Wellness and Prevention Services as “a small office with a big job.” The former wellness coordinator was recently promoted to director after the departure of Elizabeth Douglas, who in her seven years at the helm of the Student Health Services (SHS) division expanded its visibility and reach on campus, particularly its strong focus on the growing problem of alcohol abuse. Mooney (SPH’12) worked closely with Douglas, developing the Student Health Ambassadors program, securing important grants, and attending national wellness conferences. Through education, outreach, and creative, whimsical programs such as “Sex in the Dark” and “Condom Fairy,” which delivers free safer sex supplies to a student’s on-campus mailbox, She and her team at 950 Comm Ave hope to engage more students in efforts to keep themselves and one another safe and healthy.
“I’m so sad to see Liz go,” says SHS director David McBride, a School of Medicine assistant professor of family medicine. He credits Douglas with fostering “a departmental environment that has allowed creative and effective programming to be developed in areas beyond alcohol prevention.” Douglas came on board when there was no alcohol prevention programming or treatment options on campus at BU, and “she helped to build a comprehensive program focused on reducing dangerous drinking,” McBride says. “The program includes a range of evidence-based education opportunities, collaborations with local prevention organizations like the Allston Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force, working with local authorities and the BU Police Department to strengthen enforcement of community standards in the neighborhoods around BU, and educating local tavern owners on keeping our students safe in their establishments.” The new director and her staff will continue Douglas’ commitment to providing high-quality substance abuse treatment and referrals for BU students in need, he says.
“Liz taught me the ropes about doing alcohol prevention on a college campus,” says Mooney, noting that high-risk drinking “is the number-one health problem on all college campuses.” The job is a good fit for Mooney, who as a School of Public Health graduate student was involved in BU’s Alcohol Task Force and taught alcohol education classes to students arrested for underage drinking. The focus of her public health master’s was prevention of alcohol abuse. She traces her passion for college student health to her years as a resident assistant at Tufts University, she says, witnessing “students experiencing personal harm and academic difficulties because of high-risk drinking.” She completed an internship in health education and promotion there and completed a practicum with the Tufts Alcohol and Health Education Department.
Through a series of campus-wide surveys and focus groups at BU, Mooney and her colleagues have developed health education programs that, she says, “resonate with students, and have an impact on their behavior.” Citing the office’s popular safer sex initiatives, she says that she and her staff are “doing innovative and impactful work at BU, and it’s a goal of mine to communicate this to our peers and colleagues through publications in scholarly journals.” In addition to its focus on alcohol safety, Wellness and Prevention Services targets student health concerns such as stress management, self-care, sleep hygiene, sexual health, and healthy relationships.
Whether the health issue is getting enough sleep, safer sex, or responsible drinking, many students arrive at BU misinformed or clinging to myths, according to Mooney. “It’s part of our job in the wellness office to address these misperceptions and misinformation and provide students with the tools and skills to lead healthy lives at BU and beyond,” she says. As well as educating students with online minicourses and a range of awareness-raising programs and workshops, the office reaches out through its “Spread the Health” wellness blog and the SHS website, partners with other University departments and student groups, and provides free, confidential consultations and treatment for students concerned about their substance abuse.
Mooney helped develop the Condom Fairy program over the last two years, and she says that BU is “the first campus to provide safer sex supplies through the mail.” The wellness office recently received a $2,500 grant through the American College Health Foundation, which will enable it to extend the program to students living off campus. Mooney recently attended the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biannual conference on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
According to the Wellness and Prevention Services 2013-2014 annual report, the office provided 200 educational programs serving 13,000 BU students, a 97 percent increase in the number of students reached over the previous academic year. The office also boosted its social media presence on Facebook, Pinterest, and its blog, and Twitter (@BUStudentHealth) followers increased by 51 percent over the previous year.