Lamar University’s nursing department is helping its students get involved in the community by partnering with Julie Roger’s Gift of Life Tobacco Control Coalition Program to promote tobacco cessation and reduce the harm caused by tobacco in Southeast Texas. Renowned for its work in the region, Gift of Life provides educational outreach for various cancers, offers free mammograms and prostate cancer screenings with access to treatment for underserved Texans, and maintains a tobacco prevention program targeting both adults and children.

Now, thanks to collaboration between Julie Roger’s Gift of Life and the Joanne Gay Dishman Department of Nursing chair Cindy Stinson, LU nursing students are helping further those efforts in local high schools.

“We show young people what can happen,” said Becky Seymour, one of the instructors leading the project. “Sometimes with students this age, its harder for them to comprehend when you’re just talking to them. But if you put up a poster and show them, or you give them a jar of tar and show them what it looks like after smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day for a year, they say ‘oh my goodness, that’s in my lungs?’ That tells the story so much better. It’s more real.”

The new alliance provides informational materials nursing students can use to form speaking points and outlines. The Julie Roger’s Gift of Life program will also allow the students access to the organization’s visual aids such as displays, brochures, models and posters to enhance teaching.

At the same time, LU students will earn credit in the Nursing 4241 “Care of Communities” course under the instruction of Course Leader Patti Moss, and faculty Seymour and Carol Hammonds. The program serves as an opportunity for undergrads to improve their methods of community outreach and gain experience as educators.

“One of the key goals we have in our course is to teach our baccalaureate nursing students how to be good educators,” Hammonds said. “What all does it take to develop a good community outreach teaching program? So we start at the very beginning. They have to acquire background information, establish objectives, write a content outline, figure out visual aids, evaluate it … all the pieces of health education.”

The program for high schools will especially target health occupation students for three reasons: these students are statistically at high risk to use tobacco, they are the nations’ future medical professionals, and it provides LU a recruitment tool as the teens observe the university’s commitment to community and its close ties with the area’s most prominent organizations.

The mutual goal of this partnership, Moss says, is “both to prevent the initiation of tobacco product use as well as to decrease the existing use of tobacco in general in the hopes of benefiting the entire community.” This includes smokeless tobacco, regular cigarettes, and the popular new trend of electronic cigarettes called “vaping,” or inhaling water vapor with nicotine through a personal vaporizer.

“Its not just about quitting,” Hammonds said. “One of the components of the teaching is second-hand smoke. The affected individual doesn’t have the ability to make that change in someone else’s behavior. So the program is educating every person about tobacco and tobacco cessation and the exposure they may get even if it’s second hand.”

The nursing department will use this educational program as an opportunity to join forces with the teenage population, clueing in to younger students’ thinking to more effectively communicate the message of tobacco cessation.

One of the activities with the [high school] students is asking them to describe a billboard they would create to discourage tobacco use. “We are hoping to gather ideas about slogans or other things that can be put out there,” Moss said.

The outreach project not only benefits the community but also provides nursing students a means to improvement and growth. After completing the program, nursing students find themselves more confident and ready to join the professional world with an extended web of social networking, Moss said.

“They’re getting the chance to speak with a community-based agency that does a lot of different health promotions,” Seymour explains. “This is just a piece of what that agency does.” Participating with Gift of Life, and learning about the many other programs it offers, expands the students’ understanding of resources available in the community.

The Julie Roger’s Gift of Life Tobacco Control Coalition of Southeast Texas involves many other community alliances and targets a wide range of age groups and audiences across southeast Texas.

This is not the first time Lamar University has partnered with Julie Roger’s Gift of Life. “Our students have also been involved with Wise Women, a program for underserved women in Southeast Texas, and have participated in teaching the community awareness for breast cancer and testicular cancer,” Moss said. If the remarkable successes of these efforts are any indication of what to expect from the ongoing program, college students, high school students and the community’s future are sure to benefit considerably, Moss said.

“The LU nursing department is honored and privileged to be involved with this worthwhile community outreach program,” Moss said. With no mention of a deadline, the partnered outreach will continue indefinitely, she said.