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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Web-based tutorial developed as a guide to students' choices

The choices people make when they are young often have a permanent impact on the rest of their lives.

Recognizing that, New Mexico State University has created a Web-based tutorial, "Healthy Choices," to help guide incoming students in making decisions on issues that profoundly affect their futures. It is the product of months of study and discussion.

"We wanted to find a way of touching all incoming students to say to them, 'You need to be smart about lifestyle decisions,' " said Benjamin Woods, vice president for human and physical resources at NMSU.

Introduced as a pilot program this spring in three courses, "Healthy Choices" focuses on issues such as alcohol and alcohol abuse, substance abuse, abusive relationships, stalking, violence and public and personal safety.

"The curriculum was developed working with the NMSU counseling center along with input from the police department," said Stephen Jeffries, a university computer systems analyst who helped design the course.

While the course developers were working on curriculum that would provide guidance on lifestyle issues, a need for enhanced WebCT training also was identified, NMSU Police Commander Stephen Lopez said. WebCT is a tool used by as many as 2,000 classes at the university, and students seemed to be struggling and often frustrated when first trying to use it.

The decision was made to marry the two in a WebCT tutorial that would eventually find its way to every new student on the university campus. As a pilot program, it was created as a module that can be integrated into the course work.

The program may be adjusted once the piloting period ends depending on student reaction. Options under discussion include using the course as part of the admissions, registration and orientation process for new students.

John Irvine, director of the counseling center, said, "The material is meant to get young people to question their decision-making process."

One of the benefits of this kind of curriculum infusion is that it's not a quick five-minute session on lifestyle choices. It creates prolonged contact with the student, it requires interaction and it's a visual program, Irvine said. In addition, it serves as a gateway to other programs and services available for students - as they are introduced to information in the tutorial, they are also presented with information about additional services.

Jessica Adkisson is a student and a member of one of those programs called Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education or WAVE. Much of its content went into the WebCT tutorial. Adkisson said she believes the pilot program is a good start to providing new students with the information they need to have successful lives while at NMSU. The program will be monitored, she said, and she expects it will be fine-tuned as it continues to develop.

The belief is that "Healthy Choices" must be compelling and relevant enough to make an impact on the students and help answer the tough questions facing young people away from home for the first time. If items need to be changed or tweaked, they will be.

"Our main concern is our students' well-being," said Provost William Flores.

That concern is well placed. Several recent tragedies involving student deaths under a variety of circumstances point up the need for student outreach beyond academics. Flores said the university wants a long-term, effective, proactive program that will reduce if not eliminate such tragedies.

Universities provide physical security in the form of campus police and emergency response services, Woods noted. But if a student gets into a car with a driver who has been drinking, or leaves a party with someone he or she doesn't know well, or parties all night to the detriment of his or her studies, he or she has made a questionable personal choice.

"NMSU wants to ensure that the potential impacts of those choices are brought home to students so they stay well and graduate," Woods said.

To help accomplish that goal, the university has made a commitment to increase resources for such programs and outreach, Irvine said.