Public Health student, alumna participate in Alaskan Youth Leaders retreat

November 22, 2013

Marcella Felde (left) with Luise Weber (right) at the Alaskan Youth Leaders retreat

Public Health graduate student Luise Weber and alumna Marcella Felde, ’13, recently attended a regional Youth Leaders program retreat in Kotzebue, Alaska. The pair were involved in evaluation and data collection activities during the event at the invitation of Associate Professor of Community Health Education Lisa Wexler and the Northwest Arctic Borough School District’s Youth Leaders Program Director, Michelle Woods.

The Youth Leaders retreat supported nearly 100 members of the Teck John Baker Youth Leaders (TJBYL) program, which was started in 2009 in an attempt to reduce youth substance abuse and its consequences for the students of the Northwest Arctic School District. Participants in the program are nominated by peers, being identified as those that other youth seek out for support or leadership. Youth Leaders receive training as peer counselors, gatekeepers and peer educators and serve as advisors when new programming is being considered. They are taught decision-making skills, refusal skills, anger management, interpersonal and coping skills.

Weber and Felde attended the retreat to document successful practices to support the TJBYL program and to collect evidence to assess the efficacy of the program in terms of youth mental and behavioral health, school attendance, performance and discipline. They administered consent forms and pre- and post-survey evaluations, and took careful notes of the various activities run during the retreat, including identifying activity content and purpose.

“Having hands-on experience with the program has provided me with deeper insight on how to help make the program the best it can be,” says Weber. “Having the amazing opportunity to travel to Kotzebue allowed me to gain an eye-opening perspective on Native Alaskan communities. The youth leaders are such genuine, good kids, and what they're doing for their communities is so commendable and inspiring.”

“Program evaluation, at first glance, may appear like a lot of paperwork but it was truly the chance of a lifetime,” adds Felde. “I never anticipated finding myself in the far reaches of Alaska, dancing to drums, with a group of Alaska Native youth. As part of my thesis, I spent many sleepless nights trying to decipher and interpret the lives of such children; being able to dance alongside them and listen to their tribulations was the crowning moment of my learning experience.”

Wexler serves as Weber’s faculty mentor, and served as Felde’s honors thesis advisor prior to her graduation. She is the program evaluator for the TJBYL and will be expanding this work with a recently received a Service to Science Award through SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies.