Assistant Professor of Nursing Teri Aronowitz believes “we don’t talk openly” about sexual health in the United States. She is hoping to change that with the help of a $900,000 grant from the federal government.
Aronowitz will recruit a group of UMass Boston nursing students to serve as peer educators for the University of Massachusetts Boston Nursing Substance Abuse, HIV, and Hepatitis C Prevention Program.
The three-year grant was awarded to Aronowitz from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Administration (SAMSHA), an arm of the Department of Health of Human Services.
The organization was looking for “a minority-serving institution to collaborate with community based organizations,” criteria at the forefront of UMass Boston’s mission, Aronowitz said. Nationally, minorities are at a higher risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, she said.
The university will collaborate on the project with two community organizations: Harbor Health, located near the campus on Mt. Vernon Street, and Wayside Youth and Family Services, which has locations throughout Massachusetts.
As a subcontractor on the grant, Wayside will train junior and senior nursing students to deliver an evidence-based intervention to UMass Boston students ages 18 to 24. The team will work to decrease substance abuse and other behaviors that place this group at risk for sexually transmitted infections. Aronowitz also wants to increase the number of students who get tested for HIV and Hepatitis C, which will be Harbor Health’s major role on the grant.
The nursing students “will get nationally certified as peer educators and they will then be delivering this intervention to freshmen and sophomore UMass Boston students,” Aronowitz said. The national certification can eventually help graduates in the job market.
“It’s a really important opportunity for the junior and senior students,” she said.
Some details have not been finalized, but Aronowitz hopes to reach out to students in class sessions, through freshman orientation, and at major events on campus. The university held an event earlier this month in conjunction with World AIDS Day.
Within UMass Boston, the intervention is a collaboration between the Nursing Department and the Exercise and Health Sciences Department, including nursing Chair Rosanna DeMarco and Associate Professor Phil Gona. The University Health Services and Wellness Office is also participating in the grant.
“We both want to test this intervention because the goal on my mind is sustainability,” said Aronowitz. Eventually she would like to see the program continue through a Faculty-Student Nurses Association collaboration.