Emory Report
December 8, 2008
Volume 61, Number 14



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December 8
, 2008
Health educator will bridge efforts

By Carol Clark

Alyssa Lederer’s interest in health education was sparked when she was a child, after a close family friend died of AIDS. “As I got older, I would hear people say things about AIDS that didn’t resonate with my experience,” she says. “I realized that what a lot of people knew was based on misconceptions.”

She became involved in health awareness projects while still in high school. Last spring, she received her master’s from the Rollins School of Public Health and in June she was hired by Emory to pioneer a new position: a health educator for the University overall, bridging the services of the Faculty Staff Assistance Program and Student Health and Counseling Services.

“I was brought in to unite the efforts of the two offices and to help create a University-wide, public health approach for a healthy campus,” Lederer explains. “We really all want the same thing: to enhance the well-being of everyone in the Emory community.”

This October Lederer coordinated the National College Health Assessment at Emory, a comprehensive survey that assesses students’ physical and mental health concerns in addition to the health issues that most affected their academic performance. In the previous iteration of the survey in 2006, stress was the number one health concern cited by the respondents, followed by issues with sleep. The findings are in line with the national trend among college students, Lederer says, based on a standardized questionnaire created by the American College Health Association.

“Emory students work hard, both academically and in extracurricular activities,” Lederer says. “They have a lot on their plate. It’s hard not to feel stressed when you want to excel in every area.”

Lederer is now working on developing a survey to assess the health of faculty and staff, which will likely be conducted in the spring. Once the results have been tabulated, along with the most recent student survey results, a “healthy campus coalition” will be formed to develop a comprehensive, strategic plan to make Emory a healthier place to live, work, teach and study.

“By finding out more about the needs of the entire community, and gathering baseline data, we’re laying a foundation to build on,” Lederer says. “It’s an amazing opportunity, to be working for a university that is committed to taking an evidence-based approach to health promotion and that supports innovative strategies for health education.”

Health education programs will be tailored to meet the specific needs of the Emory community, she says. Meanwhile, she wants to help students, faculty and staff understand and appreciate their interdependence.

“People who feel like they are part of a community generally have a better sense of well-being,” Lederer says. “We want people to look out for each other, and to feel that others are looking out for them. Emory is a caring community, and we want everyone to know that it’s okay to talk to your professor, your student or your colleague when something doesn’t seem quite right or you notice a dramatic change in behavior.”