Alyssa Garza, an LSU Shreveport sociology major, concluded the National Peer Education Leadership Project (PELP) with a presentation at the 2021 NASPA General Assembly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Garza was among four students nationwide accepted to research, present, and potentially implement health and wellness concepts designed for higher education settings.
Students selected to be in the PELP Cohort provided a research proposal, resume, and proof of certification as a Peer Educator. Garza became the first Certified Peer Educator (CPE) in LSUS’s history in 2020.
Her research, “Stay Positive: Applying Positive Psychology in the First Year of College and in Life,” is a study that breaks down the benefits and importance of implementing a positive psychology-based course for first-year students on university campuses. The presentation was the product of a year-long study with the NASPA team, and presenting her research is something Garza will always remember.
“I am very, very grateful for this experience,” Garza reflected. “It was the highlight of this year and something I will remember for the rest of my life because I am seeing the impact and reward of my effort. Students and higher education professionals came up to me after presenting to express interest, and it truly meant a lot. There was even an administrator who wants to keep in touch with me and potentially implement the course I developed on her campus!”
Anticipated to graduate in Fall 2022, Garza currently works for the LSUS Counseling Services Department where she is an invaluable team member to the Director of Counseling Services and Peer Education Advisor, Angela Pellerin.
“It was quite apparent soon after Alyssa started as a student worker that she had something special,” Pellerin said. “As a Peer Education Advisor, the opportunity came for PELP, and knowing Alyssa’s potential, I invited her to apply. Watching her tremendous growth in only a year’s time reminds me of why I do what I do. Encouraging and witnessing students as they discover their strengths and sense of purpose is one of the most satisfying experiences for me as a professional working in higher education. Seeing Alyssa’s final presentation has made everyone in our entire division of Student Development truly proud.”
Garza hopes to utilize her training, research project, and personal experience to empower first-year students to prioritize building mental health skills with positive psychology methods.
“My main goal with this project was to help students who are in the same situation I found myself in,” Garza said of her mental health challenges as a first-year student. “I struggled with catastrophizing and negativity which created a general cognitive distortion of life being something negative. When I started picking out things that were positive, I noticed the slightest change in myself that became big a difference as I cultivated positivity into my day-to-day life. I really wanted to use this project as a holistic outlook for students on how to approach mental health and the challenges they face in college by building positive skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.”
With graduation in Fall 2022, Garza aspires to continue her education in psychology and one day offer mental health services to the military community. Her father served in the Air Force, and she hopes to integrate her experience and love for the armed forces into her career path.
“Alyssa’s innate curiosity, passion, and service-oriented mindset have become great assets to our office’s mission in supporting student well-being,” Pellerin said. “She offers wonderful student perspective, wisdom, and a strong voice to our outreach efforts. I know we have not seen the last of what she is on Earth to do.”