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PEERS competition addresses community health issues

PEERS mentees presenting their project to the judges.| Photo courtesy of PEERS project leads

The Project Engagement Encouraging Rising Students undergraduate volunteers hosted their fourth annual community health project capstone competition for high school students on May 14, during a community health workers conference at UH.

Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, around 25 high school students from several underserved Houston-area schools and organizations were mentored weekly by 16 UH PEERS volunteers. The program tasked the high school students with designing community health intervention projects to address mental health in their communities.

The program culminated in an end-of-the-year competition, during which the seven high school teams presented their tri-fold posters and vied for monetary prizes.

“Watching all the hard work our mentor and mentee teams have been doing come to fruition brings the PEERS leadership team and I a great sense of pride,” said nutrition senior and PEERS project head Tony Trabulsi.

The projects were judged by a group of volunteers that included UH alumni, researchers and public health professionals.

A group of students from Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy won first place for their project, “Readiness for Foster Teens.” An Austin High School team took home second, with the title “Houston for Minority Mental Health.” A project named “2nd Hand – Women Helpers of Tomorrow” from Mission Squash came in third.

Facilitating community engagement through a mentorship experience and project-based learning encourages both undergraduates and high school students to pursue academic and professional development, according to the PEERS leadership team. This personal growth can then be used to advocate for improved health outcomes in their communities.

The program involved UH campus tours to get the high school students interested in higher education, as well as an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. Students learned background information about Houston and community health in the fall, which led to them developing their own project ideas and creating posters in the spring.

To organize this student-led mentorship program and competition, PEERS partnered with the Community Health Workers Initiative, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute, the Honors College and Honors in Community Health.

“The HPE DSI is thrilled to support PEERS as an innovative project-based approach to peer-mentoring,” said director of engaged data science Dr. Andrew Kapral. “The PEERS program is a model for bringing together data, public health and mentoring to impact learning.”

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