Prevention Profiles: Take Five - Joan Masters (Partners in Prevention)


Audio file

Joan Masters, the senior coordinator of Partners in Prevention (PIP), is our guest this episode. Joan, who provides oversight to projects such as the Missouri Assessment of College Health Behaviors and is a Missouri Advanced Prevention Provider, discusses how her experience as a student working in the prevention field compares to her experience now as a professional; her primary takeaway around statewide collaboration, and more.

Rich Lucey:  Hi, everyone.
This is Rich Lucey at the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Community Outreach and Prevention Support Section.
And welcome to this episode of Prevention Profiles: Take Five.
This is our webcast series where we have conversations with people at the federal, national, state and local levels, talking about current and emerging issues around preventing drug abuse among college students.
And I’m really pleased to have as today’s guests, on our episode is Joan Masters, who I’ve known for quite some time, working in the field.
We’ll get into this in one of her questions, but Joan’s kind of risen up into the professional ranks, really from the student level.
But before we get into that, Joan, hello.
Joan Masters: Hello.
Lucey:  And let me tell our listeners a little bit about you and then we’ll jump right into our first question.
So Joan Masters is the Senior Coordinator of Partners in Prevention, also known as PIP and has worked with them since 2001.
Joan is responsible for training and technical assistance to PIP’s 21 member campuses and serves as the primary investigator for its grant projects.
Joan provides oversight to projects such as the Missouri Assessment of College Health Behaviors and the Meeting of the Minds Conference.
She is able to assist campuses with coalition building, implementing evidence-based strategies, building peer education programs and strategic planning.
Joan is a Missouri Advanced Prevention Provider and received both her Masters and Bachelor’s degrees in education from the University of Missouri.
In addition to her work with PIP, Joan currently serves as Regional Consultant for NASPA’s BACCHUS Network Region 4 and 5.
So with that, welcome Joan to the podcast.
  Thank you, it’s good to be here.
Lucey: Yeah.
So we’re going to jump right into the first of our questions.
I alluded to it at the top of the show.
You started your career in drug abuse prevention among college students first as a student trustee for the BACCHUS Network and then working in health and wellness at the University of Missouri.
What was different about working on drug abuse prevention as a professional after several years of looking at it from a student’s perspective?
Masters:  I think that one thing that I share with students regularly, that I still work with, who are our peer educators and our advocates is that I didn’t realize how much power I had as a student, that I then would never have again as a professional working on my campus.
And I use that term “power” loosely, but what I mean about it is that as a student, I had the ability to call out injustices, inadequacies, health disparities when it came to the way my campus was addressing alcohol and drug abuse issues or tobacco issues.
In fact, it was our students that changed our tobacco-free or our policy about tobacco on campus, to go from allowing smoking in certain areas to not allowing tobacco at all.
And it is those … it’s that type of change that sometimes will take years for professionals to accomplish, but working together with students or having students serve as educated advocates during that process was really important.
And so I always encourage my, especially my rising juniors and rising seniors to think about harnessing that power in a positive way and not drawing attention to themselves as a student leader in a negative way, but rather working with their campus to really create, create positive change.
And to use their professionals as advisors and mentors in that process.
Lucey: Yeah, so, so prior to getting ready to air the episode today, you know, we’ve talked about, you know, your family.
Your husband is a coach, I myself was a coach at times and so I want to try to make an analogy here.
You know, sometimes, from my experience, you know, when I was a coach, sometimes young people will listen to coaches before, you know, they’ll listen to their parents, even though the coaches might be saying the same exact thing as their parents were saying.
Do you equate to what you just said about the power of the student in that for some reason administrators may listen to the student voice, than they will the professional’s voice for some reason?
Masters:  Yes.
I think it is definitely that administrator … and I’m included in this, I think, that sometimes when a student brings something to my attention about how they’re experiencing our policies or the effect of other’s behaviors on campus, that resonates with me, because it means that, that, that’s that real-time, that real-life experience that the student is having.
If another professional or an administrator is telling me about what they think is happening or what they’ve heard through the grapevine, there’s just not as much of a, of a real-world, real-life experience.
I also think that on many of our campuses, especially as higher education enrollments have ebbed and flowed over the years, is that we look at students as customers, sometimes in the higher education environment and so with the ‘”customer is always right”, the customer is someone that we want to serve and protect, a lot of times it’s those students who are really going to make the change, because they can say that, you know, they would have, they would have made a different choice if they would have known that this problem was so pervasive on campus.
Or they might encourage other students to make a different educational choice.
So I think that is just, speaks more loudly to our administrators.
Lucey: So this will be the third part of the first question.
So do you think that having worked on this issue as you did, as a student, do you think that, that  that experience certainly helped you some or informed some of what you were then going to embark upon working on this, in this field as a professional?
Masters:  Absolutely.
And first of all, I had a really amazing set of mentors when I was an undergraduate student that saw in me the potential to be a professional and looked at my role as a peer education, student on campus to be a pre-professional role, which was incredible.
But because I had that level of experience and had worked, had been on my coalition for my campus and had spent a lot of time in our Wellness Resource Center, where our peer education efforts were focused and had worked with the BACCHUS Network and served as a student trustee and met a lot of people on the national level and had an experience with NIAAA in their first college drinking report, that all informed sort of what the professional world would have been like for me and it was, that was exciting and made me want to go into the field.
I also think that being on my statewide coalition or my, sorry, my campus coalition when I was a student, was kind of like going behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz a little bit.
So some days I tell my coalition members on the campuses that I work on for PIP, is that having students on a coalition is really powerful, because we believe in that student voice, which is what we just talked about.
But sometimes we get access to students to see our dirty laundry and to see the conversations that we’re not so proud of having and that is really detrimental, I think, to students who want to believe in their institution and want to believe that their institution is there to protect them.
So some days I’m like amazed that I went into prevention, based on what I saw and what I witnessed and the conversations I saw some professionals having with each other.
And then at the same time, that, that honestly made me want to go into more, because I knew I wanted to be the change that I wanted to see on my campus and it served me well in that I’m still working in the field, eighteen, nineteen years later.
Lucey: Well, having known you for as long as I have, know that you have blended, you know, your student perspective and your professional perspective very well and it’s lent and contributed a lot to our field, so you know, I want to say thank you to you for that.
Masters: Thank you.
Lucey:  So I’m going to move onto our second formal question.
So you have a long history of being part of a statewide initiative to prevent drug abuse among college students.
What is perhaps the biggest challenge with coordinating efforts across an entire state?
Masters:  Sure.
So I’m in the State of Missouri and while we’re not a large State by, compared to other States, we’re geographically diverse.
We are politically diverse in some areas of the State.
I work with 21 campuses, all throughout the State of Missouri, some down into the Bootheel of Missouri, which is southeast Missouri, all the way up to being very close to the Iowa/Nebraska border in northwest Missouri.
And so I think just bringing campuses together to help them see that at the same time as they feel quite different and diverse and they often use the term “oh, our campus is unique”.
The one thing they have in common is that they all are unique.
And they’re able to have the experience of guiding, educating and keeping young people safe and healthy while at that institution and it kind of binds them together.
But that’s a difficult process.
That’s a, you know, using a lot of strategies to be able to see themselves, to provide if you will, that backbone of education and support for the folks in the State, so that they can continue to make change.
I’ll also say that one of my biggest challenges for my staff, as my staff has ebbed and flowed as I have a lot of graduate assistance staff or new professionals that have worked for me and then moved onto other more exciting adventures, is that we have to see these campuses where they’re at.
And some campuses are just not as far along, don’t understand best practices in the level that we might want them to.
And they’re always going to be sort of challenging us as we challenge them to do something evidence-based and informed and being strategic.
And we can’t spoon-feed campuses and give them all of the answers and do their work for them, but we have to walk alongside of them and provide that support.
And sometimes that gets overwhelming, because there are 21 campuses with each of those kind of unique, diverse features I mentioned.
Lucey: So the follow up question here is, as you talked about the challenges and my takeaway on this is I love that quote, that one thing we have in common is that they’re all unique.
Is there anything you’re especially proud of with Missouri’s statewide effort?
Masters: Absolutely.
First of all, I am extremely proud that we have continued to have a really collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship with the funding sources that we work with.
We are supported and I appreciate all of the support that we get from our Missouri Department of Mental Health, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Senior Services.
And the fact that we’re able to seen as partners with our State government to move forward, I think is something I’m really proud of.
And it’s those relationships, those mutually beneficial relationships are something that I have worked very hard at, developing with my colleagues and with our folks in State government.
Secondly, going back to the one thing we have in common is that we’re all unique is that we get focused on who we are and what we think defines us really easily.
And we can bring that focus to what we do, have in common, by doing something like a Statewide assessment.
And so that is why in the first few years of Missouri Partners in Prevention we used the core alcohol and drug survey.
And then in 2007, we embarked on a project to write our own survey with a lot of the questions and the work that we were doing with the core, but to really look at the college health and safety issues in a broader perspective, beyond just alcohol and drugs, but also mental health, sexual health experiences, intimate partner violence and also students’ relationship to the university, their interest in transferring, their socioeconomic status and their Pell Grant status, what county in Missouri they’re from, and really bringing it back to identifying some of those causal factors that might be driving some behaviors or some problematic issues on our college campuses.
And so then when we do that survey that happens on our campuses February through March, we share that data back with them in June at our coalition meetings and with data calls and site visits on all of our campuses.
And we remind them that they’re not alone, that these are issues that all campuses are dealing with and that there’s hope possible, because other campuses have successfully navigated higher binge drinking rates or rising cannabis use and things like that.
So I think the survey and having that Statewide data, having that assessment, being able to share that back out with our Missouri community in data briefs and other research presentations is really the key that keeps us moving forward, because we know where we’ve been, we know where we are and we know where we’re going with a lot of the work that we’re doing.
And without that assessment, I feel fairly confident that our coalition might have died a long time ago.
But with that assessment, we’re able to approach funding sources and talk about the work that we have done and where we’re going and how we could assist them in their strategic priorities that they have handed down through their federal funding sources.
Lucey:  You know, you know, so many of our listeners know, you know, I started my career working for the State of New York and you know, for nine years, before I moved to D.C., I was involved and oversaw New York State’s Statewide initiative, if you will.
And the thing that you said that resonated so much with me is, is meeting campuses where they are.
It was a real challenge and it was the one thing that probably kept me on my toes the most.
You know, with a State, you’ve mentioned, you know, even with Missouri, regardless of the size of the State, it’s going to be diverse and I know from my time in New York, you know, most people think of New York as the City.
But you know, the City in and of itself is, you know, one catchment area, but there are just literally city blocks that make up a neighborhood and that’s very different there in terms of the drug abuse trends than say, four or five blocks away.
And so it is a matter of really being sharp with your craft and knowing your prevention science to help these campuses where they’re at.
Masters: And I think I would add to that, Rich, I think just, I see them as individuals.
I try and get to know all of my coalition campus contacts, I try and see where, where their professional interests lie and what they’re passionate about, so that we can also tie the work that they’re doing and their strategic planning that they’re doing to, to the work that they want to accomplish and to their professional goals.
And so even also campuses are unique, so are the professionals that serve them.
And like we work with nurses who run health centers as well as conduct officers and law enforcement and each of those individuals … we’re all moving towards the same goal, but their road to getting there sometimes looks a little bit different and we try and honor that in our process as well.
Lucey: Oh, absolutely.
Yeah, I love that.
We’re all working toward a shared goal, probably a shared mission, but our perspectives are very different, you know, and the people we bring to the table.
So I’ll move onto our third question and as part of your work with Missouri Partners in Prevention, you help campuses build their peer education programs and obviously that’s also part of your student perspective, your student experience.
What do you think needs to be top of mind for professionals who are working with students?
And vice versa, students working with professionals.
Masters: Excellent.
I think … so interestingly enough, I began like you mentioned as a peer educator.
I’ve worked with the Statewide coalition for about 18 years and then just recently, due to some staff changes here at the University of Missouri, I have gotten the opportunity to work with our peer educators again and to supervise the graduate students that work with the peer educators and actually at this moment, the University of Missouri where I work is going through a process of reenergizing our peer education program.
And that also has reenergized me a little bit about the work that students have on campus.
And one thing that I, that I’ve been trying to keep in mind based on my student perspective of many years ago, is that this is a pre-professional experience for students.
And I think sometimes we tend to think of student peer educators as another club or organization, which on some campuses it might be.
But we have the opportunity to have learning outcomes for our students, not just learning outcomes for the programs that the students provide, but learning outcomes for the students themselves.
And that also leads into the fact that students, peer educators, can be an essential part of implementing best practices.
I’ve had colleagues across the country, as well as in the State of Missouri, that have abandoned the idea of working with student peer educators or working with undergraduate or graduate students in their work, because when they go to the literature, they don’t see the work peer education listed as a top evidence-based practice potentially.
However, what they do see in some of those evidence-based strategies that they are using are things like small groups, social norms clarification, the work on environmental strategies, the work that we can do in, like alcohol skills training and those are all things that students can absolutely be a part of.
And so peer education really, to me, is a vehicle to making our evidence-based strategies even more population level based on our campuses.
If we work with peer educators, we likely do more work with more people than we would have if we’re trying to do it alone.
Lucey: So the couple of notes I wrote down to myself, two things.
I love what you said first of all, that for peer educators, you know, professionals need to keep in mind that, you know, you totally don’t know truly how much you potentially could be shaping a young person in preparing them for what could be their career.
I mean, you could be setting them on a path, I mean, we all get into the prevention … I’ve always said this, I think everybody’s path into prevention is unique.
Masters:  Absolutely.
Lucey:  We all take a different road in how we land where we do, but you know, for those people, I think of Dolores [inaudible 0:19:49.
9] and yourself with your peer educators and others, that you are shaping young adults who want to be involved in this work.
Masters: Absolutely.
Lucey:  So, and because of that, it led me to my second point.
It was this whole notion of evidence-based practices or strategies.
You know, peer education, you know, could be in the grey literature, it could be in tier three, if you will.
You know, it just might not be the top of mind for people in thinking what’s the gold standard for preventing drug abuse among college students.
And yet these students can absolutely be a vehicle by which these strategies are implemented or the conduit by which evidence-based strategies are implemented.
So that’s a really critical point that I think you made on that.
Masters: And I think, too, that you know, our students also, you know, part of that question that you posed to me is, you know, what should professionals keep in mind.
But what should students keep in mind potentially for their advisors is that their advisors are a wealth of knowledge and I’m … we met with this student just recently, a couple of weeks ago, that had great ideas, none of them potentially were ideas for implementation of a prevention strategy that was actually going to create change or potentially even could have caused damage, because it has, it had no evidence of effectiveness and in fact, some of the strategies that the student was suggesting potentially could have been damaging to a university that we were working with.
And so for students to remember that their prevention professionals on campus are trained to know sort of what that spectrum is of evidence-based strategies, that students have a lot of freedom within those strategies to create and do and implement things that they can get excited about and get creative about and also get other students excited about, potentially having a healthier and safer and more productive and academically focused environment.
Lucey:  Absolutely.
I think most recently what I thought of is, you know, we hear about the millennials and you know, there’s more often than not, I’ll see workshop sessions or professional development sessions on how to work with millennials.
And you know, I immediately kind of want to flip that and say, well, maybe it should be not about how we work with millennials.
It really should be how we all just try to work together, using our skillsets, our different perspectives.
I don’t think it’s about one trying to work with the other and that’s what I think of with students and professionals.
Masters:  Absolutely.
Lucey: So I’ll segue to our fourth question.
In keeping with the help that you give to campuses with their drug abuse prevention efforts and one of those areas is strategic planning, which really is the foundation for effective prevention efforts.
Based on your experiences, you know, in Missouri with your statewide initiative, what aspects of strategic planning do colleges and universities struggle with the most?
And what guidance do you give them?
Masters: So I think that the thing that our campuses tend to struggle with the most, based on the work that we do with them, is having the time to be strategic.
So it’s not even doing the strategic planning, it’s deciding that they want to use their time and use the time of others that they might bring together in a coalition or consortium to do that strategic work.
Because the implementation of a strategic plan is not the difficult part.
It’s the seeing how everything fits together and also seeing how those items that you’ve identified as things that you want to focus on and the programs and strategies that you will be implementing to do that work, actually will create change and affect the bottom line of the binge drinking rate or the rising cannabis use rate or tobacco use on campus.
And so while strategic planning and prevention work that we have, I mean, we use, you know, the strategic prevention framework and it’s certainly a circular model, that we ebb and flow through.
But I think in some ways campuses, we give them so much freedom within that, they need to see it a little bit more linear.
And so some of the work we’ve been doing recently with campuses is logic modeling, pulling people from the beginning of seeing a problem on campus with their data, a rising in their data and then identifying what that ending point is and then filling in the information in between about how they’re going to get from a particular problem that they’ve identified to a solution that’s at the end of their logic model.
And really guiding them through that and helping them know that any change that they make is incremental and might in fact add up to one large change at the end.
But you know, we have our campuses consistently looking at their data, using their strategic plan, rather not as a bookend that sits on a shelf, but as a roadmap that they use for their coalition, so that they can kind of follow it, a recipe, roadmap, however you want to refer to it, as to what they’re going to do next, so that they can remember back to what those data points were and how they’re going to get to influencing those high-risk behaviors that they want to address on campus.
Lucey: So I envision, you know, the professionals on the campuses, again, wherever they’re at in terms of readiness or what have you with their programs, almost saying, yeah, I know, strategic planning, it’s the, it’s the foundation.
I know I got to do it, I know I got to do it, but I don’t have the time to do it.
And is there a point in time where you almost have to have, almost a little bit of a tough love approach and just say, but you can’t afford not to make the time to do it?
Masters:  Absolutely.
And we’ve … so I think that’s the benefit of a Statewide coalition, is that we give them that time to do that.
Their campuses have elected that they participate in the Statewide coalition, they come to monthly meetings, they, the campus is in support of them doing either site visits with us, where we talk about the data or a series of phone conversations about their data, walking them through strategic planning.
And they’re required to do a strategic plan.
And while I think some of my Statewide coalition colleagues across the country sort of cringe when I talk about our requirements of our Statewide coalition, because we want it to be this collaborative, really impactful and positive experience, we have found great success with making those conversation … or those conversations about strategic planning and the implementation of the strategic plan to be a … you carve out time for it or else you can’t.
You can’t participate, you can’t see the change you want to see.
I also think I will add to that, is that a lot of campuses see the difficulty in what they’re doing and tying it back to their university’s mission or strategic plan.
And I think there’s a lot of really exciting work that’s been done with wellbeing on our campuses currently, that provides that bridge between our campuses’ strategic plans and the academic university mission as a whole.
And I think by using a Statewide coalition to help them understand that new wellbeing research, understand how it might provide the linkages and then also carving out that time for them, that’s really the best way to give them that support to do that.
Lucey:  So, yeah, time definitely is sometimes a luxury that we don’t have, but I think that that’s fantastic, what you’re doing is, you’re driving home the point that you need to do this, but giving them the time they need to do it.
So that’s just great guidance that you’re giving them.
So as we wrap up, I’ll move to our fifth question and it’s sort of become the standard question I ask all of the guests with just a little bit of a variation on it.
So for you, Joan, what is the primary takeaway around statewide collaboration that you would want our podcast listeners to remember after this episode?
Masters: I think that statewide coalitions are just such important drivers of change in the work that we’re doing.
And maybe it’s because I am blessed to be in Missouri, to have the support that we’ve had from our funding sources and to be able to implement the work that we do and work with an amazing team of staff and our campuses that we work with, but Statewide coalitions to me provide that level of support that people in prevention don’t often get.
And when we think about colleges and the folks that work in prevention, it’s either one part of their job or a very small part of their job.
And even if it is their full-time job, there’s probably not a second person like them on campus.
Our colleagues in student affairs and residential life and in Greek life, faculty, they usually have a peer to turn to when things get rough or they need guidance or support.
Our prevention and health promotion folks don’t have that.
And this is hard work that we do.
And so statewide coalitions gives them that peer-to-peer interaction, it gives them the support, the cheerleaders they need to keep going.
And also gives them the ability to understand and implement evidence-based practices in a way that is outside of their institution.
They can learn within the statewide coalition and then apply that work back to their institution.
With the campuses that are not in our Statewide coalition, often, you know, referred to that disparity between not being in the coalition and not having that support versus the campuses that are in the coalition.
And they, they have close colleague relationships that can support them when things get rough or when they want to celebrate something.
Sometimes we get very excited about the work that we do in prevention on a college campus, but if we walked next door to our conduct professionals, they’d be like, I don’t understand; what is exciting about that?
But if you tell another prevention professional about the work that you’re doing to create change and the evidence-based program that you just got great results in and you’re starting to see change, we’re going to get excited about that with each other.
And I think that statewide coalition provides that level of support and honestly, keeps people in the profession longer and when prevention is really hard work, we want to see those people be invested in and I think our statewide coalitions provide that investment.
Lucey: Well, Joan, I want to thank you.
Those are excellent takeaways from the episode and it’s been so nice to really kind of reconnect with you.
I know we tried to do a little bit at a recent conference and sometimes time gets away from us, right?
But, but this is an opportunity for us to reconnect and I know that we’ll be able to continue that going to the future.
You’ve given our listeners here on this episode so much to think about, I think whether they’re leading a Statewide coalition, whether they’re participating in a Statewide effort, whether they’re a student working with a professional or vice versa, I think that the perspectives and the advice and guidance that you offered really are far-reaching and are going to hit many different points for our listeners.
So I thank you for that.
Masters: And thank you.
I really appreciated the resources that the DEA has been providing to our campuses recently.
So right back at them.
I’m really, I’m pleased that our colleagues across the country and also in our federal government are seeing the need for this important support to our college campuses.
So thank you very much.
Lucey: Well, you’re welcome.
And it’s our pleasure and we’re looking forward to this coming year with some more products that we’ll have available to colleges and universities to help them in their efforts.
And so with that, I’m going to thank our listeners for joining in and listening to this episode of Prevention Profiles: Take Five.
And with that, I’ll say take care and have a nice day.