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Campus Rec and Wellness to use GOHS grant for health and safety programs

2021-01-25-DUI simulator
The Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) allocated more than $17,000 to UNG as a participant in the Georgia Young Adult Program, which addresses young adult driver crashes, injuries and fatalities. Part of the grant money allows UNG to bring a DUI simulator to the Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses in the spring.

Conducting a virtual scavenger hunt, improving social media engagement, and connecting peer health educators with students are a few elements that the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Campus Recreation and Wellness members learned about in a fall conference.

"The virtual conference was fabulous," said Meri-Leigh Smith, associate director of wellness and health promotion at UNG. "We plan to use a few ideas in the spring semester."

UNG students, faculty, and staff attended the national conference thanks to funds from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS). Smith said some of the grant paid for the conference while the rest funds a variety of health and safety programs on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses. The programs are directed at highway safety and being informed about alcohol choices.

UNG received $17,805 to participate in the GOHS Georgia Young Adult Program, which addresses young adult driver crashes, injuries and fatalities. The amount is a more than $5,000 increase from last year's grant.

"This is the 12th time we have received this grant," Smith said. "It shows that we have been good stewards of the money."

Part of the grant money allows UNG to bring a DUI simulator to the Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses in the spring.

"Students can get into a full-size functioning vehicle with a wheel, brake and gas pedal and through virtual reality go through the simulation of drunk driving," Smith said. "The simulator operator then completes a report of all of the laws they broke while behind the wheel."

She said the simulator will be used this spring on both campuses ahead of the two-day spring break.

"We will follow all health and safety protocols required because of COVID-19," Smith said. "We will wipe down the steering wheel and other surfaces before we allow each individual in the car and the contracted company has specific protocols they have developed to keep everyone safe."

She said it is an important lesson UNG students need to experience, and it is working.

"According to the AlcoholEdu for College data, the number of UNG students self-reporting as non-drinkers is increasing, and that's a good thing," Smith said. "Trends are moving in the right direction, which means we are doing something right."

Smith explained new and transfer students are required to participate in AlcoholEdu for College online course, which is designed to equip students with knowledge and skills to support healthier decisions related to alcohol.

Talking to students about alcohol awareness is no easy task, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased many in-person activities. However, Smith said UNG transitioned quickly in spring 2020 to spread its message about alcohol and sexual assault awareness through social media.

"We are using social media more through trivia games with prizes and giveaways," Smith said, crediting the national conference for its engagement ideas.

Campus Recreation and Wellness has accounts on Facebook with the handle @PHEatUNG and Instagram @phe_dah.

The department also has continued to use its peer health educators to spread the messages and answer questions from students. Peer health educators are students trained to talk openly and honestly about topics ranging from the consequences of risky behavior to tips for health and wellness.

Smith said applications to become a peer health educator are available through UNG Connect.

"Our peer health educators are advocates who reach out on a peer-to-peer level on a variety of health disparities," Smith said. "We want them to pick their passion and we will provide training for them to be successful."

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