Being a Gorilla means doing the right thing and making good choices. At least that's the focus of "Do the Gorilla Thing," a campus-wide program of Gorillas in Your Midst, a Pittsburg State University peer education group.
It was recently selected as the Outstanding Prevention Program at the BACCHUS Network General Assembly in Reston, Va. Also, Tambree Wilson, program coordinator received the Outstanding Peer Educator award.
The program aims to educate PSU students, particularly incoming freshmen, about substance abuse, mental health, stress management and bystander behavior.
"The purpose of this program is to have students take pride in being a Gorilla and associating being a Gorilla with doing the right thing," said J.T. Knoll, group advisor. "There are a lot of chances to make poor decisions when you're in college, and our program was set up to encourage students to invest in good decisions."
He is delighted that the program has been recognized on a national level by BACCHUS, a national peer education network, and regards it as a "feather in the cap" for the university.
"What's most important, however, is knowing that the program works and helps students make decisions that will benefit them today, tomorrow and later in life," Knoll said.
The group presented "Do the Gorilla Thing" at the national conference, and it made a strong impression on representatives from other universities.
"Just a couple of weeks after the general assembly, we received an e-mail from a student at Bowling Green State University," Knoll said. "The student said he was inspired by our presentation and is trying to start a program like ours at her university."
Tambree Wilson said that winning the Outstanding Peer Educator award took her totally by surprise.
"I believe there were 56 nominees, and when we first looked at all the nominees I was pretty confident that I was not going to get it," she said.
"There were so many others who were so deserving. When it was announced that I'd won, my first thought was that they'd gotten the wrong name. But it was pretty cool."
Wilson served as student coordinator for Gorillas in Your Midst last year. She joined the group in the second semester of her freshman year after she saw GIYM members doing a skit during a Freshman Experience session.
Do the Gorilla Thing also won the Excellence for Outstanding Program award on April 6 at a Meeting of the Minds Conference in Kansas City, a gathering of peer education groups from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. On April 10 it was named the Outstanding PSU Program at the annual Leadership and Awards Banquet in Overman Student Center.
Wilson said that the program grew out of an eruption of imagination and creativity during a Gorillas in Your Midst meeting.
Page 2 of 2 - "Doing the Gorilla thing includes all the things we do, everything about being a Gorilla," she said.
That includes stepping up and doing the right thing in the classroom, on campus or in the community and at parties.
"A lot of things could be prevented if you took the car keys away from that person, or kept another person from going upstairs," Wilson said.
She also served two years as a PSU residential assistant and worked at Safehouse.
A PSU senior, she will graduate in May with a degree in psychology with an emphasis in substance abuse, and plans to pursue a master's degree in higher education.
Wilson said she was honored by the national recognition, but never sought the award.
"Somebody else took the time on their hands to put together the nomination, and that means more to me than the actual award," she said.
The "somebody else" was J.T. Knoll. Back in April, he received the Outstanding Advisor award at the Meeting of the Minds conference, and it was Wilson and another person who sneaked behind his back to put together his nomination.
"To the group, he's a father-like figure and takes us under his wing," Wilson said in April. "He would do anything to make our lives a little bit better. We recognize him not only as an advisor, but as a personal hero."
At that time, Knoll said that the students in his group made him look good. An emphatic believer in giving credit where it's due, he also praised the support Gorillas in Your Midst receives from the university.
"We didn't get there without great backing by Campus Life as a whole, and Dr. Steve Erwin in particular," Knoll said. "Dr. Erwin has been tremendously supportive. Heather Eckstein in Student Success has also been one of our greatest promoters and has used the Gorillas in Your Midst every year to present to all incoming freshmen."
In fact, he said, "Do the Gorilla Thing" addresses the very qualities of academics, diversity, honor, vision and leadership that PSU puts forth in its mission statement.
The mission statement reads that "The university supports an organizational and interpersonal structure that actively encourages individuals to achieve their potential by providing programs and services that create opportunities for students and other individuals to develop intellectually, ethically, aesthetically, emotionally, socially and physically. The university provides intellectual leadership and multicultural experiences that contribute to the preservation of the heritage of the region and enhancement of its inhabitants."