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Brittany Brackett, Cody Christian, and Kat Murphy staff the HERO Peer Health Coaching table at the UMD Health Check Fair in the Kirby Student Center.

HERO Program Offers Health Education and Coaching

"Being healthy is more than just working out." said Cody Christian, a senior majoring in Public Health Education and Promotion. "People need someone to talk to about reaching their goals."  Christian is a peer health coach at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He is part of a unique program aimed at guiding students toward reaching optimum health by using peers as allies.

The program, HERO (Health Education Resource Office), uses upper division UMD students with training in health education and coaching. The health coaches work as a resource, along side students, providing support and guidance in reaching health goals such as weight loss, strength training, stress relief, increased sleep, and building healthy relationships. Health coaching, usually an expensive resource, is free to UMD students, and personal information is kept confidential.

Students are matched with a peer health coach based on their goals, and they meet one-on-one with their coach on a weekly basis. Currently, four peer health coaches, each with areas of specialization, have made the commitment to help fellow students.

Christian focuses on the area of weight loss and fitness. "I am a certified personal trainer and I realize most people have the answers to their problems inside them. It's our task to help them find those answers and provide support and guidance. They don't need someone who only tells them to go to the gym or to eat healthier."

Kat Murphy, a senior, another Public Health Education and Promotion major, specializes in the area of health behavior and healthy eating. Hannah Koepke, a senior, double majoring in Exercise Science and Public Health Education and Promotion, helps students looking for ways to manage stress and improve time management skills. Brittany Brackett, a senior with a Public Health Education and Promotion major, specializes in women's health and healthy relationships.

Amy Versnik Nowak, Ph.D., associate professor, created the program. “The HERO Peer Health Coaching program emphasizes a holistic approach that supports participants in reaching their personal health goals" said Versnik Nowak. “We are passionate about helping people improve their wellness, and we believe that this program is an asset to UMD students.”

The HERO Peer Health Coaching program is housed in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. The department is part of the College of Education and Human Service Professions. Sports and Health Center, Room 215, 8 am -4 pm, Monday-Friday, 218-726-7552,, BLOG, Twitter: umd_hero

Story by Ellie Neigebauer and Cheryl Reitan, October, 2013.

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