Student Engagement Effort Key to Steering CU Freshmen Away from High-Risk Alcohol Use

August 27, 2008

In an effort to connect new University of Colorado at Boulder students to their school and community, and avoid the negative consequences of what's known as the "college effect," CU is ramping up its efforts to get students involved early.

During the first six weeks of college, drinking and high-risk drinking behaviors and the negative consequences associated with them typically increase, while abstinence from drinking decreases, according to Jane Curtis, CU-Boulder's director of alcohol and other drugs program.

The "college effect" pattern of high-risk drinking at the start of the school year is something CU-Boulder is trying to tackle by helping students quickly get engaged in their new community.

"Our student engagement program is designed to get our students involved during the first six weeks of school, which is the critical period of time when either you get connected and involved and stay out of trouble, or you don't," said Curtis.

The key component of the student engagement effort is found in AlcoholEdu, an online science-based alcohol education course that all incoming CU-Boulder freshmen were asked to take. More than 4,500 out of 5,800 incoming freshmen voluntarily have signed on to take the course.

"Part of our approach is to help students create social connections -- our students arrive here from all over the world and they're trying to connect," said Curtis. "We also want to encourage students to move outside their comfort zone and take local trips to cultural events, participate in a student talent show or try bowling. Many of us are working very hard to ensure a healthy learning environment that takes into account learning in and outside the classroom."

As part of the AlcoholEdu course, students can express interest in alcohol and sexual assault prevention programs and alcohol-free activities on campus by clicking a box, which then sends their contact information to Curtis, who forwards it on to the appropriate campus program.

More than 2,000 students have signed up to find out about attending events that do not focus on alcohol, 368 said they are interested in planning events that do not focus on alcohol, 85 said they want to get involved in the development or revision of alcohol provisions and 225 would like to join a student organization that advocates for prevention and education concerning sexual assault issues on campus.

"We have over 700 incoming students who showed interest in community service, and this is significant because several researchers have found that higher levels of student volunteerism is associated with decreased risk for alcohol consumption," Curtis said.

Other activities that drew students' attention included bowling, with nearly 900 expressing interest, movie nights with more than 1,300, live music with 1,400, karaoke night with 320 and dance classes with 692.

"We anticipated a high number of students wanting to get involved in sports-related activities, but are ecstatic with the numbers expressing interest in prevention efforts and giving back to the community."

The University of Colorado Student Union also strives to welcome new students and get them involved quickly, according to CU-Boulder student Victor Hsu, director of health and safety for UCSU.

"The first few weeks of freshman year is an especially exciting time, however, it can also be a period of uneasy changes and adjustments," Hsu said. "In order to make the transition as smooth as possible for freshmen, the University of Colorado Student Union offers many ways to get involved in the campus community and meet new friends."

For more information about the Alcohol and Other Drugs Program visit www.colorado.edu/alcohol/.

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