Project Engagement Encouraging Rising Students (PEERS), supported by the University of Houston, UH Honors College, UH CHWi, and the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute, focuses on encouraging STEM education and providing mentorship to underserved students in grades 9-12. PEERS grew from and embodies the model of Community Health Workers (CHWs) as simultaneous educators and advocates. Initially conceived in a CHW class, this program pairs high school students and the University of Houston undergraduates to create long-lasting, effective, and engaging community projects that are meaningful and relevant. In addition, facilitating community engagement through collaboration and project-based learning encourages both our undergraduate and high school participants to pursue academic and professional development to advocate for improved health outcomes in their communities. Each student team presents their final project at the PEERS competition to compete for a monetary prize.
Plans Moving Forward
After considering the health and safety of all parties involved, PEERS plans to move back to an in-person format. Enrollment will begin in late Summer so that Project Heads can conduct orientation for both mentors and mentees in October. High school mentees will continue to have the unique opportunity to present their projects before a panel of Community Health Workers and judges.
2021-2022 Competition Theme
Undergraduate mentors will facilitate 2 hour weekly sessions with high school teams from one of our partner sites. Mentors will facilitate modules that focus on the social determinants of health and guide their students in designing community health projects. Mentors can expect to build a natural mentorship with their teams, sometimes providing advice about college, careers, and life.
Undergraduates may choose to instead participate in our special projects team to design and implement engaging events for the entire program. In the past, this team has created recruitment materials, hosted the ‘Pizza with Professionals’ Career Lunch, and used directed acyclic graphs to demonstrate the impact of PEERS.
Winning teams address the annual theme by demonstrating innovation and collaboration through well-planned, evidence-based community health projects. Projects are evaluated by community health workers, university faculty, and other community leaders at the annual competition.
If you had 5 million dollars, how would you improve the wellness in your Houston community?
1st place: Anjali Agrawal, Favor Igwilo, Ibtesam Jamal - Harmony School of Innovation
Developed an organization that implements community fridges within the Third Ward of Houston, adjacent to the UH campus. In their solution, they foresaw success by directing 50,000 pounds of food to the community, as well as attending food fairs. Their primary focus was to educate the community on nutrition, sustainability, and resolving food insecurity.
2nd place: Zeba Motiwala, Ayesha Hussain, Saira Hussain, Jasmine Wani - Clements High School and Stony Point High School
Eliminate the language barriers, lack of transportation, and cultural stigmas that prevent refugee youth from seeking mental health treatment. Based on the students’ own experiences with the refugee community, they wanted their program to serve as a community of support for the refugees, volunteers, and doctors.
3rd place: Mansi Patel, Zaynah Yousuf, Naisha Vinayak, Sudharshini Prasanna- Clements High School
Focus and improve the literacy rates of the Houston refugee youth population by partnering with Las Americas Middle School. They aimed to increase performance levels by conducting qualitative analysis regarding their interventions. Based on their analysis, they would implement identical methods in schools with refugee populations, as well.
Honorable Mentions: Jaqueline Villanueva Govea- KIPP Sunnyside High School
Implementing a “neighborly depot,” which the student defined as a physical building where residents in the Houston community can come to receive supplies and apply for jobs. The intent was to build a social support system that was sustainable and attentive to every community member’s needs.
Honorable Mentions: Diya Kashyap, Maria Siddeeque, Madeeha, Siddeeque, Sheena Gupta - Austin High School, Clements High School
Developed a program called Wonders for Women after Incarceration (WWAI), which was designed to support post-incarcerated women on their journey to recovery from augmented mental health issues. The organization aimed to institute a successful transition back into society for these women by providing them with shelter, healthcare, transportation services, employment and legal resources, and a strong social community to uplift their spirits and help strengthen them during their fight.
2019 - 2020
If you had 5 million dollars, how would you improve preventative care in your Houston community?
1st Place: Leylah Walker-Battle, Adrian Williams, Rebecca Asare - Lamar High School
Student-led education programs facilitated through a website and app that encourages safe sex practices for teens.
2nd Place: Eva Reese - Lamar High School
Using telehealth to provide medical services to high school students who are unable to access medical services outside of school.
3rd Place: Evelyn Osorio, Angel Cortes, Erik de la Cerda - Austin High School
A holistic approach to overcoming homelessness that addresses all social determinants of health.
2018 - 2019
If you had 5 million dollars, how would you alleviate the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston community?
Best Design & Community Health Worker Favorite: Azucena de la Cruz, Monica Arteaga, Estevan Gonzalez - YES Prep 5th Ward
Most Innovative Design: Jasmine Jenkins, Yesenia Mairena - Austin High School
Arwa Hasnain, Health, Senior
David Hartman, Psychology, Senior
Tony Trabulsi, Nutrition, Senior
PEERS: Mentored Project-based Community Health Education for Teens
Arwa Hasnain, Lucinda Ba, Maham Gardezi, Daniel Phu
This project describes the organizational and education elements that are incorporated into the PEERS Program. Near-peer mentoring, capacity building, and feedback loops are all aspects that were discussed in depth. By utilizing the information they have collected, PEERS has continued to grow in size and progress its integrated community health mentorship program.
All four of the 2020-2021 Project Heads chose to get involved in this research project so that they can conduct an evaluation on the program. Information from this project indicated the strengths and weaknesses of PEERS when it was delivered online.
Efficacy of a Community Health Driven Mentorship
Project Engagement Encouraging Rising Students (PEERS) implements an undergraduate-high school mentorship to begin conversations about community health, empowering high school students to address issues relevant to their community through project-based learning. This study focuses on mentor growth that is often overlooked in the mentee-mentor relationship. This study utilizes a qualitative approach, using questionnaires and virtual focus groups over three checkpoints to assess growth in (1) awareness and interest in community health (2) leadership and professional development, and (3) feeling competent as simultaneous community health educators and advocates.
About the Authors
Hannah Wright (BS in Liberal Studies) and Christian Bernard Alarcon (M.S. in Biology) served as mentors for the 2019-2020 academic year. They also took part in the PEERS Special Projects Team to help with logistics and behind-the-scenes planning. This year, they designed a program evaluation utilizing a qualitative approach evaluating undergraduate mentor growth through a series of three checkpoints. Their findings were presented at the Texas Educator’s Academies Collaborative for Health Professions Southeast (TEACH-S) conference in April and will be presented at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Meeting & Expo in October. (Hannah Wright also has a minor in Biology, Nutrition and Medicine, and Society.)
- A Community Bridge - TMC News
- Unique Program Brings UH Students and Community Together to Tackle Public Health Issues
- Health Disparities - University of Houston Magazine
- Public Health Webinar Discusses Healthcare's future
- PEERS Program Goes Remote
- Pharis Fellowship Scholars Start Individual Experiments to Improve Health of Houston Community
- UH Healthcare Organizations Discuss Racial Disparities in Medicine
- UH CHWI Helping Houston Communities Impacted by COVID-19
- A Glimpse into the PEERS Program
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