Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, recently presented a SUNY Potsdam senior with an award recognizing her work on advancing a tobacco-free initiative on her college campus.
Torie Keeton ’17 was selected for the Community Champion Award by the Seaway Valley Prevention Council's Advancing Tobacco Free Communities in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties program.
Chelsea Bartlett, community engagement coordinator for Advancing Tobacco Free Communities, said each year the program highlights a community member who has been a champion in their local community. She noted that Keeton has worked with her agency for the past two years on a tobacco-free campus initiative for SUNY Potsdam.
“Community leaders who have earned the title of champion have gone above and beyond their role to foster change. These champions have effectively educated and mobilized their neighbors which had led to a successful policy. One champion at a time, advocates will be able to create effective and long-lasting change in tobacco control that protects the health of all local community members,” Bartlett said. “Torie is the epitome of a young leader, a force to be reckoned with. Over the past two years, Torie has dedicated more than her fair share of time, effort and voice to our movement toward a tobacco-free college campus policy.”
“We truly would not be where we are today without Torie’s remarkable knowledge base, commitment and charisma. When Torie talks, people listen," according to Bartlett.
She noted Keeton had helped lead an effort that resulted in a drive that gained approximately 1,000 signatures supporting a tobacco-free campus. They also collected 65 large Mason jars full of cigarette butts. Bartlett said Keeton is continuing to work on the tobacco-free initiative in her final semester on campus.
“We are continuing our efforts throughout the school year. We’re working to garner student support through movie nights, cigarette butt cleanups, tabling events and any opportunities we have to partner with other clubs or organizations across campus,” Bartlett said.
Keeton said she was fortunate to be the president of the community health honor society the year the group decided to work with Advancing Tobacco Free Communities on the effort on campus.
“I was very passionate about doing this because we, as community health students, had learned that policy changes like this are integral to bettering a population's health. For me, I felt we had a responsibility as up-and-coming public health advocates to start at our own home, to start locally in our work to create healthier communities,” Keeton said.
Assemblywoman Jenne said it is clear Keeton has made the most of her time on campus.
“She is going to be a standout in her field. It was wonderful she took advantage of SUNY Potsdam's focus on experiential learning through several exciting internships,” the assemblywoman said. “She's a go-getter who wants to support positive change and understands the health challenges our families and communities face. I'm interested in watching as her career takes off and as she gets to tackle problems as a public health professional.”
SUNY Potsdam President Kristin G. Esterberg had high praise for the role Keeton has played during her time on campus, and told the Albany-area native she will be missed when she graduates at the end of the fall semester.
In addition to serving as the past president of Eta Sigma Gamma, Keeton has served as head student of the Student Giving Committee and Student Health Advisory Committee. She also works as a student ambassador and as a teaching assistant. Keeton also served terms as a student senator for SUNY Potsdam's Student Government Association, and as a treasurer the for campus Active Minds chapter.
Keeton said SUNY Potsdam has provided her with great opportunities as she prepares to begin her professional career.
“As I’ve been reflecting back on my time at Potsdam, I regard the tobacco-free initiative as one of the most valuable experiences I had here because it was experiential education at its finest,” she said.
She noted the community health students recognized they needed to garner community support for the effort to make the campus tobacco free rather than seek a top-down policy change.
“We could have done this more behind the scenes by presenting to the administration the health and fiscal benefits the school can gain from making this policy change, but even if they agreed, they could only get the signs changed outside and declaration posted on a website,” Keeton pointed out.
“Unfortunately, that means next to nothing if the community itself doesn’t choose to then respect the new rule," she said, noting the goal is to create a culture change so the future population’s established cultural norm is a tobacco-free environment.
“So from the very beginning, we relied upon what we know as community health students, regarding the importance of community support, by purposefully making our initiative public and transparent. That was done to encourage open discussion on this undeniably charged topic," she said.
She said the report presented to President Esterberg and the SUNY Potsdam administration at the end of the Spring 2017 semester reflected that collaborative effort.
“We’re partnered with the entirety of the Greek Life community, environmental awareness groups like Middle Ground, and students and faculty in the biology department,” Keeton said. “We were and continue to be very encouraged by the enthusiasm President Esterberg has responded with. We’ve all agreed to the constitution of a committee that will continue to look into possibly making this policy change. And we stand together in agreement the committee must include voices to represent every subpopulation that makes up our SUNY Potsdam community.”
She said the award she was accepting was actually a reflection of a team effort, involving the Eta Sigma Gamma members, the Advancing Tobacco Free Communities staff and the SUNY Potsdam Community Health Department faculty. She singled out SUNY Potsdam Community Health Professor Dr. Brent Crow and Community Health Assistant Professor Dr. Janelle Jacobson for special praise.
“They are two of the brightest highlights of my college career,” according to the SUNY Potsdam senior. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve benefitted from their eagerness to go above and beyond—tirelessly creating opportunities and experiences in which their students won’t just learn the course material, they’ll appreciate it and be able to use it. Their prowess in public health and enthusiasm for teaching guarantees it. They are teachers and mentors at their core. They are an absolute gift to SUNY Potsdam.”
Keeton noted she is optimistic the tobacco-free campus initiative will continue to move forward over the next few months.
“I know we, as a community, are supportive and ready to see it happen. Here’s to change, and to hoping one of the next ones we see on this campus is a tobacco-free policy,” she said at the ceremony, which was held on the date of this year's Great American Smoke Out.
One of the overall goals of the community health field is to be proactive, creating a sense of overall wellbeing within communities, by providing programs that focus on illness and injury prevention. In addition to its newest major in exercise science, the SUNY Potsdam Department of Community Health also offers both a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Science degree in community health, as well as minors in community health, fitness, nutrition, sexual health, therapeutic recreation and wilderness education. To learn more, visit www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/CommunityHealth.
Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,700 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit www.potsdam.edu.