AlcoholEdu required for all first-years

After becoming acquainted with each other at Playfair and being advised about ?hasty hookups,? first-year Carnegie Mellon students should be started on the path to collegiate success. Yet before they begin studying for midterms and finals, CMU first-years have another important course to pass: AlcoholEdu.

AlcoholEdu is an online course designed to educate college first-years nationwide about alcohol and its effects on the mind and body. According to its parent company, Outside the Classroom, the program is intended to avoid preaching. Rather, it issues preventative education about alcohol, distinguishing between myths and facts.

The makers of AlcoholEdu first approached Carnegie Mellon four years ago with its online program. However, Student Health Services wasn?t interested in the online tutorial at the time, as they preferred a more interactive approach for their alcohol education program.

As the company worked out a few technical glitches and other first-tier universities began implementing the program, Student Health Services reconsidered the program. According to Nancy Schmidt, the Health Educator for the Carnegie Mellon Student Health Services, Carnegie Mellon realized that AlcoholEdu was the program richest in facts about alcohol and data about the student population and accepted a packaged deal from the company. The University will pilot the online program this fall for first-year students.

From September 13 to October 18, first-years will log onto, sign in, and give their Andrew e-mail. The e-mail is used solely for the Carnegie Mellon Housefellows to determine their students? progress in the mandatory program. All information given is completely confidential and cannot be traced back to the student; the University will receive only the data and demographics for the student body as a whole.

The program is curricular in nature and consists of five chapters, each having a concept, such as alcohol poisoning and blood alcohol concentration. Prior to starting the chapters, students must complete a survey regarding their drinking behavior. The course is then tailored to each student?s individual drinking habits, focusing on helping students make smart personal decisions, rather than telling them what to think. ?It?s a very non-biased program,? said Latika Kirtane, a junior in computer science and New House RA. RAs were required to complete the program prior to orientation.

Customized for Carnegie Mellon students, the program contains links to alcohol-support organizations and leadership groups on the site. The course takes approximately two and a half hours to complete, but students are recommended to take it in multiple sittings. AlcoholEdu ends with a post-survey and a final exam in which students must earn a grade of 70 or higher to pass and receive credit for the course.

The final piece of the program is a follow-up survey, which is sent to the students approximately 30 days after initial completion of the course. Carnegie Mellon students must complete the follow-up survey by November 22.

?We want to see if [the students?] behaviors, attitudes, and planning have changed as a result of the course when the students go out,? said Schmidt.

?I think CMU does itself a disservice in thinking that we?re different from other colleges. We might have an intellectual level that surpasses a lot of schools, but we still have curious 18 and 19 year old kids,? said Schmidt. According to 2001, 2002, and 2003 data gathered in a national core survey, alcohol consumption at Carnegie Mellon is average. Of the 70?80 percent of students who reportedly consumed alcohol in the past year, 40 percent of the students engaged in high-risk drinking, and the remaining 60 percent report consuming small amounts when they drink.

?What we?re finding is that students drink very heavily or little to none?there?s really no middle ground,? said Anita Barkin, director of the Carnegie Mellon Student Health Services.

A key to the preventative nature of AlcoholEdu is having first-years complete it within the first few weeks of college. ?A lot of students come in naive to alcohol because it?s never been an issue for them,? said Barkin. ?This allows us to have a level playing field for all of the first-year students.?

According to Barkin, taking into account the international students whose cultures differ on perception of alcohol, and whose genetic tolerance may be different, is especially important in educating first-years. ?We?d be fools to assume that everyone here has the same basis of knowledge,? Schmidt said. ?Educating the whole population can change the culture.?

?I think people don?t want to admit that it will work, but no one our age knows everything about alcohol, especially the myths,? said Kirtane. ?Everyone will take at least one new thing from it.?