Despite growing up in Florida, Amanda “Mandy” Parente had never heard of New College prior to applying for the newly created position of health education coordinator. Having accepted the position Parente will now call this previously unknown place her professional home for the foreseeable future. As the first person to hold the title of campus health educator, Parente is excited to develop a brand new health education program that will work for the unique community that is New College.
As an undergraduate, Parente attended the University of West Florida (UWF) where she was incredibly active in student life. “I loved being involved,” Parente said. “I was an RA, an orientation leader, I was president of the Criminal Justice Student Association, a member of the Gay Straight Alliance and involved with peer education.”
During her senior year, Parente had an internship at the campus wellness office where she began and ran the UWF Take Back the Night program. Parente received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a focus on victimology, specializing on victims of sexual crimes. Through her experiences working with the wellness office and the Take Back the Night campaign she realized that she wanted to combine her studies with public health specifically on a college campus.
Parente went on to the University of Louisville’s graduate program in community health education. While there, she researched the correlation between abstinence only sex education in secondary schools and rape culture on college campuses. She hopes to continue this research through her doctoral work in a few years.
“A big passion area of mine is getting us to not have crappy sex education so that we can improve the lives of people in general, but specifically college populations, because that’s where a lot of exploring happens, and where a lot of violence happens too,” Parente said. “If we can start having those conversations at a younger age then we can hopefully make it a healthier and safer place when students do transition into college.”
When Parente was hired last spring it was expected that her focus would be on sexual assault and Title IX education and programming. However, following the on-campus deaths of University of Central Florida student, 21-year-old Dylan Besser, and first-year, 18-year-old Julian Toomsen-Hall, her focus has shifted more toward alcohol and drug abuse and misuse, as well as helping people through the grieving process that continues into this year.
“The grief on campus is definitely the biggest challenge,” Parente said. “And recognizing that I’m not the expert in your community. Which is something that was put in our heads every single day of grad school. We would hear that we are the expert in our topic but not the expert in your community. Having to really check myself and remember that has been kind of interesting.”
One of the initiatives that Parente is most excited about is developing a peer education program in which students volunteer to become certified through the BACCHUS Network and are cross trained in educating others on sexual health, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health.
“I can stand in front of a room and be like ‘I have this degree and I have this certification and I’m this great person,’ but people aren’t going to hear it the same way from me as they are from their peers,” Parente explained. “We want to be having those conversations where it’s educational but also where we’re still supporting the policies of the university…So like, when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse and misuse, looking at harm reduction and really honoring that the students want a harm reduction model for that, but then also trying to find a way to put that with what the university wants.”
Parente chose New College partially for its small size and also for the challenge of developing a brand new health education program.
“I could have gone to a lot of places that were already established, and just gone through the motions,” she said. “So, instead of inheriting things and just doing what everybody else has done for all of these years, it’s like getting to make my mark and starting almost from scratch.”
Also important in her decision were the values of the school and how they fit into her personal beliefs.
“A lot of my core values as a human and as a practitioner I see in the student body here and so I thought that was important,” Parente said. “The students here are very high academic achieving and I want to bring them up to that same level of excellence in their holistic health.”
Parente said that she has been impressed and surprised by the students.
“Like I know it’s an honors college, and I conceptually get that, but having never worked in, or been a part of an honors program, or college, I didn’t knew what that meant, and day to day what that looked like,” she said. “I’m constantly challenged by them, and I’m constantly just like ‘this is going to be great.’”
Parente invites students to stop by her office, saying, “Come hang out with me, let me know what I can do to help you all. I want to be a really good resource, but I also don’t know what will be successful because I’m not the expert of your community. So tell me what you think will work and we can figure it out.”
Looking for conversation starters? Ask her about her cat Tucker, rock climbing or the show “Big Brother,” in which she dreams of one day participating.