Student Spotlight: Social Media Advocacy with Allison Beltran
How long have you worked with the Avance Center and in what capacity?
I joined the Avance Center in June 2014 to help coordinate the First Annual Latino Health Disparities Conference. As a volunteer, I helped with everything from drafting letters for corporate sponsorships, procuring the catering vendor, and reviewing abstracts for poster presentations. I also coordinated outreach for student volunteers and conference signage printing.
Following the conference, I was brought on as an intern and began several projects on the Avance Center’s Research Training & Education Core. The Training Core enhances university and community capabilities to conduct disparities research by training students, faculty, and community members. In this role, I developed a few programs, including a curriculum for computer literacy for Spanish-speaking adults and a training course on evidence-based programs for local community organizations. The latter trained non-profit organization staff on the benefits of evidence-based programs and covered how to make a logic model, how to evaluate outcomes, and how to identify financial resources available to do this work. This summer I helped develop a program curriculum for Latino youth on the topic of social media advocacy.
Why did you become interested in working with the Avance Center?
During my sophomore year, I heard about the Avance Center’s launch and contacted the Center about potential opportunities to get involved. My previous experience was with student organizations on the GW campus that serve students, such as OLAS, and the Dean’s Council for Multicultural Recruitment, and GW Casa Blanca. I was really interested in an opportunity to work off campus where I could help Latinos in the greater DMV area. Being from Maryland myself, I felt a desire to give back and help the community.
How did you become involved in the Social Media for Advocacy program?
There was a Center-wide meeting held in the spring with our community partner, the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center (MMYC). Many of the concerns MMYC case managers brought up were not necessary personal problems affecting Latino youth, but larger community issues. Trash in the parks, landlords abusing their power, and evictions issues to name a few. Since I’m studying Political Science and have a lot of experience working on advocacy issues, I proposed a program that would help youth address these concerns in a fun, engaging way. The Community Outreach & Engagement core already had plans to implement a social media program, so we decided it would make sense to integrate the two. Our combined goal was to teach youth practical skills to advocate for themselves and their community, while using a platform (social media) that was relevant to their everyday lives.
What were some of the issues youth identified to advocate for?
Two main concerns that we heard in every session was bullying and discrimination. They also talked about making good decisions, planning your future after high school, and respect in the workplace. Gang violence/violence in general was also mentioned. The youth were interested in advocating to address these issues.
What were your biggest challenges of the project? Successes?
Developing the curriculum was a bit of a challenge. Advocacy is such a large topic. It was my priority to make it age and culturally appropriate. It took time to look for examples they would understand and relate to, but also inspire them. I wanted to get the point across that anyone can be an advocate, no matter what your background.
In terms of success I think seeing the youth feel more empowered after they finished the program. Youth were really engaged and interested in doing more advocacy in the future. This was a big relief for me. My goal was to inspire people to do something they didn’t think they could before. It can be intimidating for youth to speak out about things that they care about, but I think by the end they felt empowered and confident that they could do it. Based on our evaluation of the program, I noticed a lot of youth indicate in the pre-survey they were not confident in their ability to make plans, organize meetings, and identify concerns affecting their community. Results from the post-survey showed an increase in confidence in these abilities. Youth also demonstrated a general motivation to continue advocating in the future. Another success is physical products that youth created for the program. Youth created social media posts and a video to share with their social networks.
What have you gained from working at the Avance Center?
When I started, I felt like a complete beginner in the field of public health! I now have gained a lot of practical skills for when I go to graduate school and pursue a career in the future. Along with gaining general professional skills, I’ve learned how to work effectively as part of a team and be flexible when timelines and expectations change along the way. I’ve also gained skills in evaluation survey development, basic statistical analysis, and event organization.
How will you use these skills in the future? What are your goals for the future?
Working at the Avance Center gave me a holistic view of the Latino community. I’ve realized that there is not always one solution to every problem. There are many ways to intervene and you can be creative and innovative. In the future, I will apply these skills as I continue my studies pursuing a Masters in Public Health. I am interested in community-based participatory research and studying the effects of migration on health.
In addition, working with youth in Langley Park opened me up to how lucky I was to have certain role models in my life. I wouldn’t have ended up at GW pursuing higher education if it wasn’t for them. I like working with youth hands to help guide them and show them there are ways to move out of your current situation or environment that is holding you back. There are many things in life that make these youth want to give up, but they can overcome those obstacles. I think having more Latino leaders is important and I want to help develop those future leaders.
Ms. Beltran’s research interests include environmental health and risk, health disparities, and the effects of immigration and forced migration on health. Ms. Beltran dedicates her volunteer time to promoting college achievement for underrepresented minorities and young Latinas. She will be graduating GWU with a BA in Political Science in 2015 and plans to pursue public health in graduate school.