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Posted on September 15, 2010

Cal U students have new options to help reduce underage drinking and other high-risk behavior involving drugs and alcohol.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PCLB) has awarded the University a $14,091 grant to support the Options@CalU prevention program.

Tim Susick, associate vice president for Student Affairs, applied for the grant through Cal U's Office of Grants and Contracts. Alcohol and drug prevention specialist Donna George will implement the grant.

The Office of Student Affairs has set a goal of reducing the level of underage or dangerous drinking incidents by 7 percent this academic year.

The program arises from the University's strategic plan, which calls for a comprehensive wellness center that encompasses the needs of all students.

"Prevention certainly is one of those needs," said George, who came to Cal U in June.

"Although the Options program at Cal U is an educational program for the whole University, we're really targeting first-year students, because we find through research that's where a lot of the binge-drinking comes into play."

Upperclassmen are being recruited to serve as peer educators, said George, who is training them in prevention, education, mentoring and motivational interviewing techniques.

Once they are trained, the peer educators will give presentations to interested student group.

"We've had a very collaborative relationship with the PLCB over the years, and this is the third grant we've received," Susick said. "One of the best practices in combating high-risk drinking among college-age students is the use of peer educators."

The grant funding has enabled the program to hire a graduate student, Julie MacKenzie, to assist George. The award also will be used to purchase resources for on-campus health classes, residence life groups or student organizations so they can conduct research, give presentations or simply make information readily available.

"We're looking to prevent some of the incidents that occur because of binge drinking, whether it be violence, sexual assault or alcohol poisoning," George said.

One of many program projects under way is called Quick Hits. Options@CalU is looking for theater majors, or other students who enjoy acting, to present very quick prevention messages to students. They hope to deliver their message to a "captive audience" of students waiting at bus stops or standing in cafeterias lines, for example.

George compared this endeavor to the national "Above the Influence" campaign.

"As the name indicates, Quick Hits will be very unannounced and over-the-top," George said. "This will grab their attention and give students something to think about."

During the program's initial stages, George received recruiting help from residence hall Community Assistants and from the Peer Mentoring Program.

"They've been excellent," George said. "Karen (Posa, director of Peer Mentoring) has helped in our recruitment phase and had some great ideas."

George also praised PASSHE for implementing the BASICS program - Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students - at all 14 state-owned universities.

"Cal U and all the other PASSHE schools are addressing alcohol and other drug issues in their strategic plans for a reason," George said. "The productivity of all students while they go to school here - and potentially long beyond their years as college students - can be compromised by choices made now.

"Options@CalU is one of many strategies the University is implementing to help students make informed decisions among their options."