Alumni Profile: Shawna Lum on being a Peer Health Educator

Alumni Profile: Shawna Lum on being a Peer Health Educator

By: Kelvin Claveria
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Time and time again, we’ve told you how volunteer work can help you develop work-related skills. One thing that’s not always highlighted, however, is how volunteering can be an empowering experience, especially when you’re working on something that you’re passionate about.

Shawna Lum, an SFU alumni, provides a good example. Through her involvement with the SFU Peer Program, she has found an avenue to go after her passion – all while helping others and meeting like-minded friends along the way.

I first met Shawna at an event organized by SFU Peer Programs and Career Services. As one of the invited panelists for that event, Shawna emphasized the importance of volunteering while you’re still a student. She explained that volunteering “allows you to choose the projects that you’d like to get involved with”. When you volunteer, you can choose which organizations or activities fit in with your passion – something you can’t always do as a paid employee where your projects are usually predetermined.

During the same event, Shawna enthusiastically talked about her time as a Peer Health Educator. She was so enthusiastic, in fact, that many attendees felt compelled to ask her questions at the networking event that followed. Personally, I was inspired to also apply for a Career Peer Educator position because of her enthusiasm for the Peer Educator program.

Shawna already graduated from SFU in June 2009 with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology, but volunteerism and civic engagement are still important to her up to this day. In addition to her position with Burnaby MoreSports, a non-profit that provides sport opportunities for underprivileged youth, Shawna is also currently the Operations VP for Twinbro, a non-profit organization that provides inspiration and information for youth to access post-secondary education.

Recently, I’ve asked Shawna to share some of her thoughts regarding the Peer Educator program and how getting involved with it has helped her with her career. She once again discusses the importance of volunteering for issues that you’re passionate about and offers tips on how SFU students could find the time to fit in volunteer work with their schedule.

What are some of the skills you’ve developed through the Peer Educator program?

One of the great things about volunteering and the Peer Health program in particular is that you can focus your energies where you wish. In particular, I took on projects to work on my writing skills, event planning and organization skills.

What aspects of the position surprised you the most?

The thing that surprised me the most was also what I ended up appreciating the most. I loved how flexible the program was. For example, you got to choose what health topics were most meaningful to you and what types of projects you wanted to work on. The program allowed you to choose what you wanted to do, all the while being supported by your fellow peers and staff!  I loved how open things were and how creative we were allowed to be!

What’s the most rewarding part about being a Health Peer Educator?

I think the most rewarding part was taking the information I had learned and using it to help others. Sometimes this was as simple as working at the nutrition booth and providing myth buster info on energy drinks. Other times though, it was having students feel safe enough to approach me for information or resources on more personal issues.

It feels empowering to have your peers approach you to discuss how to get their family members more active because they are worried about their health, or to have a discussion on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections.

From your personal experience, how much time commitment does being a Health Peer Educator entail?

One of my passions is health promotion and so I really dove into it! The expected commitment was 5 hours per week, but I often found myself doubling that.

It was very flexible time though, as I was often doing research or planning on my own. I also took on projects, ensuring that I scheduled them to fit in with my exams and busy weeks at school.

Could you talk about some of the challenges that Health Peer Educators may face? How did you overcome these challenges?

I think one of the major challenges for every student is time. There is just never enough of it! For me, it was important to stay organized. It’s just like reading before class – not only do you learn better, but it actually takes less time than playing catch up and reading after the lecture!

Knowing when your papers and exams are ahead of time not only keeps you from forgetting things, but allows you to schedule your Peer responsibilities at the most convenient times.

Besides the Peer Educator program, what other steps did you take to prepare for your career?

I really think I’m still preparing for my “career”! I still don’t know what I want to do when I “grow up” and I’m not sure if I ever will! I think a big thing though is just doing what you enjoy! Seek out opportunities that you are passionate about. Surround yourself with positive people with similar goals and interests. Do informational interviews!

As I look towards doing a Masters and exploring different “career” paths, informational interviews have been extremely helpful. I’ve gone back to professors, my co-op coordinator and previous employers and asked if they know anyone I could speak to about Masters in Public Health or working in health promotion. They in turn have passed me onto others who can help. Talking to people who have been there, done that has given me tons of insight and I only wish I had started earlier!

Shawna is a great inspiration not only because she was able to use her volunteer experience to gain valuable work-related skills, but also because she has made civic engagement a life-long passion. I sincerely hope that you found her experience and her insights as inspiring as I did.

Posted on April 15, 2012