By: Kayla Ronquillo and Aric Pun
Allison Borwell recalls a time in college when a graduate student came into her class to share her thesis on comprehensive sex education.
“A light bulb went off,” she said. “I was like, wow, I really want to be a part of this.”
She believes that if people were more open to having conversations about sex, alcohol, and drugs, it would lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle.
Risk education allows people to be heard and understood without judgment to get help before bigger health problems emerge.
“If we bring it back to just sex ed specifically, I want to help promote a world or culture or society that is open to encouraging people to be who they are, but in a safe and healthy way,” Borwell said.
Whether it’s helping individuals who struggle with addiction, attending to residents’ needs in an assisted living facility, or being on-call for natural disasters, Borwell’s personal upbringings and early life experiences play a major factor in her health educator career at CSULB.
“It’s difficult to think of a life where I’m not working in some type of field that involves helping others,” she said.
At first, Borwell’s educational journey wasn’t clear at first because she didn’t know what field to get into, but she knew she wanted to be of service to others.
Borwell first went to San Diego City College then transferred to Portland State University in 2009 to get her bachelor’s degree in psychology.
However, Borwell was then accepted into the AmeriCorps NCCC program where young adults build leadership skills by working together in teams to help communities in need all across the country. This moment led her to leave Portland State University and move to Denver in order to start her training.
During Borwell’s first year at AmeriCorps NCCC, she traveled around the country, built homes with the Habitat for Humanity organization in Mobile, Alabama. Borwell also worked in an assisted living facility back in Denver to increase the resident’s quality of life through a 10-month program.
Later on, Borwell was offered the team leader position in her second year at AmeriCorps where she was in charge of 10 young adults, managed logistics and other departments within the company’s program sponsors.
On May 22, 2011, the Joplin tornado caused over 161 deaths and injured over 1,000 individuals “making it the deadliest single tornado on record in the U.S.,” according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Borwell and her team responded to the costly tornado incident by cleaning up its damages and building homes.
“We were kind of more on the recovery efforts after the storm by working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes because the tornado really devastated the city,” she said.
After two years at AmeriCorps, Borwell dropped her psychology major and moved back to San Diego to finish her prerequisites at SDCC.
She then transferred to CSULB in 2013 with a double major in both community health education and school education.
During Borwell’s time at CSULB, Student Health Services (SHS) hired her as a student assistant to work as a peer health educator with the main focus on sexual health.
Some of Borwell’s student assistant tasks consisted of doing presentations for several student groups, campus outreach, and promoting healthy behaviors to college students.
In 2015, Borwell graduated with her bachelor’s from CSULB so her time ended as a student assistant for the Health Center. At the time, there weren’t any SHS job openings available, she kept in touch with the staff.
Later on, Borwell’s CSULB connections informed her about an open position as a health educator assistant at SHS. After Borwell applied, she was hired full-time and has been working there since 2016.
Heidi Girling, Office of Wellness and Health coordinator at SHS, has worked closely with Borwell for several years and feels lucky to have her on the team.
“I truly value her work ethic, her commitment to our students and her sunny personality,” Girling said. “She always has something positive to say about a situation, and is ready to help anyone who needs assistance.”
Since Borwell’s main target audience is college students, she advocates her support for the importance of student health services.
“I develop programs to promote safer sex and prevent unintentional pregnancies or STI’s,” she said. “I’ll do alcohol, tobacco, and other drug programming but also classroom or organization presentations by request.”
Another aspect of Borwell’s job is training peer health educators with the help of master-level graduate students to learn more about health education.
“Students tend to respond more to education when it comes from their peers,” she said. “Because students are part of the target population [for health education], they help keep us informed over the current trends so we can connect better.”
In 2019, Borwell returned to CSULB to complete her master’s in public health to further her educational journey.
“Once I got my master’s, I applied to be a health educator,” she said. “I’ve had some personal growth since I’ve been here, and I love my role because it’s helped me evolve and make my job really enjoyable.”
Holly Boettner, an SHS health educator believes Borwell, her former student assistant, is extremely passionate about her work.
“She has a good grasp of the obstacles that students have to deal with,” she said. “[Allison] really draws on her own experiences towards guiding our student assistants, so they can continue providing health and wellness education to our community.”
During Borwell’s time as an SHS health educator, her position has heavily altered towards remote work due to COVID-19. This transition has led her to “think outside of the box” when reaching out to her students through live streams or social media.
Even though there were many transitions, Borwell believes she has gained more knowledge and appreciates her community.
“I’ll be honest, it’s just very different and new for me,” Borwell said. “But it’s been a good challenge work-wise and personal-wise.”
One of Borwell’s major transitions was dedicating most of her time and efforts towards COVID-19 cases by contact tracing CSULB students and faculty members.
Even though it has not been an easy task, each individual’s case is different and many react differently towards this matter.
“It’s pretty cool to be a part of the ‘bigger picture’ to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “Hopefully, one day this will all be over, and it’ll be one of those things we look back on to tell the next generation of folks, ‘oh during [the pandemic] this is what I did.”