Genesis Barrientos ’15 received an Outstanding Student Award from the National BACCHUS Network for her work in peer health education, having served as a peer health educator on campus for three years—and this year, as the program’s coordinator. The Beverly resident was also named a "Pillar of the Community" for her commitment to leadership at UMass Dartmouth.
With a major in sociology and a minor in women’s and gender studies, Genesis is planning a career in non-profit administration or in the field of women’s and gender studies. She has interned at MASSPIRG in Boston and as an educator for the YWCA.
Sociology major with a minor in women’s & gender studies
I saw majoring in sociology as an opportunity to enhance my desire for community activism and to learn more about groups of people. A sociology background enhances my knowledge about fields that I’m already interested in with academic evidence, discussion, and theory.
I’ve been interested in women’s issues and advocacy since high school, and the women’s and gender studies minor allowed me to develop a more theoretical approach to what I was already interested in. I’ve taken all of the classes in the field that I could, because the topics were always interesting.
Experience as a peer health educator on campus
I’ve been a peer health educator for the past three years, and this year I was given the chance to become the coordinator for the program. It has helped me grow as a leader within the program but also within the campus community.
As peer health educators, we’re given the tools and resources to help our peers. Students are more likely to talk to other students about problems they might have. Knowing what to do or who to direct someone to is a huge help to campus life. The peer-to-peer aspect of the program is one of the qualities I love the most.
I’ve been able to attend conferences that have expanded my knowledge on peer health education topics, which has also enhanced my academic studies.
I appreciate the knowledge and support that Beth-Anne Vieira, our director, has given us.
BACCHUS Conference Outstanding Peer Health Educator
I received the award for Outstanding Peer Health Educator at the BACCHUS Area 10 Conference, which we attended earlier this semester. The award is given to “peer educators who have demonstrated commitment to their peer education programs, excelled in leadership roles, maintained academic success and who have made a significant contribution to their peer education program.”
The UMassD Peer Health Educators thought that I fit the criteria—that I was willing to help new members understand the program and feel more comfortable with speaking out about health-related issues.
Benefits & challenges of being a peer health educator
One of the biggest benefits of being a peer health educator is the family you gain. These are people who are invested in the same passions as you and help you through your college experience. As a first-year student, I didn’t join many organizations on campus and struggled academically, but after joining Peer Health, it was as if I had found my place on campus. It has led to many opportunities that I might have missed out on, if I’d never applied to the position.
Another benefit is the knowledge I’ve gained about health topics: sexual health, alcohol consumption, mental health, and more. As a peer health educator, you can take your own passion about health topics and turn it into a campus-wide campaign because you have the resources and the people to help you make it happen.
There have been challenges, too—such as trying to engage students who aren’t necessarily interested in what we have to say. We’re constantly working on our marketing strategies and how we present topics. As long as the program keeps evolving with the campus community, the Peer Health Educators will remain an important part of the campus community.
Internships with MASSPIRG & YWCA
My first internship was at MASSPIRG’s Boston office. I created a list and contacted people to volunteer at concerts throughout the country, to assist in registering people to vote.
Since junior year, I’ve also been a YWCA Girls Exclusive Instructor. The YWCA focuses on eliminating race and empowering women through various programs available to women in the community.
My role at the YWCA has been to facilitate after-school programs for school-aged girls. I can take a concept from a sociology or women’s and gender studies class and create a kid-friendly lesson plan to help the girls understand social issues and develop confidence and self-esteem.
After graduation: work with a non-profit, then on to grad school
I plan to find a position at a non-profit organization, preferably one focused on helping women, children, or under-privileged youth. It’s important to help others realize their potential, to show that there is someone who cares about them and their success.
I’m going to take a year’s break from school before going to graduate school for either public administration with a concentration on non-profits or a women’s and gender studies program.