Fernando Castaneda is a CI alum and former Wellness Peer Educator. Having recently received his Master's of Science in Clinical Psychology and currently supporting Campus Recreation and Student Wellness as an Administrative Assistant, Fernando has his sights set on his next goals.

Fernando spoke with WPE about how being a Wellness Peer Educator put him on track for success!

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What inspired you to become a Wellness Peer Educator?

When I applied, I had just overcome a big hurdle in my life regarding my physical health. During the summer, I had made healthier lifestyle choices that allowed me to lose 40 pounds. After coming back to CI in the Fall feeling healthier than ever, my confidence was at an all-time high. I came across Wellness Promotion & Education (WPE) in Dolphin CareerLink and immediately applied. It was WPE's mission of promoting and advocating for a healthier lifestyle to students across campus that drew me in.

What is the most special aspect of being a peer educator?

The most special aspect for me was seeing our students creating positive changes. There were multiple times where students would approach me and tell me how they thought it was great that we were creating these events for our students, or how the information that they learned from us was new to them. Not only was the positive feedback rewarding, but knowing that I was part of a program that influenced positive changes in others was very meaningful to me.

Which accomplishments are you most proud of from when you were a peer educator?

I spent a summer creating WPE's first Financial Wellness presentation. I felt very proud of that because I spent a lot of time doing research and creating an activity where our students could create their own budget. I was able to even apply it to my own financial habits. 

I was also proud of myself for helping to launch the SMART Goals program. I created the workbook that is used today, and I conducted the very first SMART Goals meeting with a student. Although it was nerve-racking at first, I ended up enjoying the session. I had an even more personal experience with helping others achieve their goals.

How has being a peer educator prepared you for your career goals?

Joining WPE was really the first stepping stone. I was accepted to an internship program for Ventura County Behavioral Health and during my interview, my supervisor mentioned that she was impressed with my work at WPE, especially with conducting SMART Goals meetings. The internship experience, plus my time at WPE, allowed me to beef up my Master's degree applications. I received acceptance letters from most of the programs that I applied to, and I do believe that being a peer educator was the starting point for me reaching that milestone. 

What did being a peer educator do for you that nothing else did?

Being a peer educator allowed me to step out of my comfort zone. I had a bit of social anxiety at one point and could never see myself being so interactive with others. Being a peer educator allowed me to challenge myself by learning how to feel comfortable in a social setting.

Being a peer educator also taught me how to be a leader and to understand what being a leader meant. After becoming the Lead Peer Educator, it never felt as if I had some higher power over others. Everything we did was a team effort. I always felt proud of each individual because they brought something unique and exciting to the program. It always felt like more of a family when we were working together. 

What did you learn about yourself while in this program?

While in this program, I learned that I didn't give myself enough credit for my accomplishments. That changed when other peer educators and WPE staff encouraged me to feel  proud of my efforts. It was a little surprising to hear this, but ultimately it was good for me. I have since been able to be more proud of myself in various settings.

What is one piece of advice you would suggest to future Wellness Peer Educators?

I would encourage them to express themselves through their work. That is what makes being a peer educator feel like less of a job and more of a passion. Showing your creativity and sharing your unique perspective is always accepted, and no idea is ever a bad idea. That is what helped me feel more comfortable as a peer educator; it was knowing that everyone is open to being fun and creative in the work that we did, all while sticking to our overall goal.

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