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Sacred Heart Grad Student Earns Award for Vaping Awareness Campaign

Award recognizes the exceptional work that led to SHU becoming a vape-free campus

MPH student Gabrielle Diaz of Bridgeport, center, met with State Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D-133) last spring to discuss efforts and support in the passing Tobacco 21, a bill that would raise the legal age of purchasing tobacco products to 21 in the state of Connecticut.

Gabrielle Diaz, a graduate student working on a master’s degree in public health at Sacred Heart University, has earned the Michael J. Perlin award from the Connecticut Public Health Association for her work in the implementation of SHU’s first vaping awareness campaign.

The Michael J. Perlin Award honors students who are enrolled in a public health program and demonstrate a commitment to leadership and volunteerism through student activities or community service.

The vaping awareness campaign began at SHU in June 2018, after the University received a grant from Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). Diaz helped implement and evaluate the campaign on campus. Additionally, she is an author on a peer-reviewed publication and advocated for raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 at both the city and state levels.

“When I first found out I won the Michael J. Perlin Award, I was in shock. I am excited about being recognized for all the hard work that I have done over the past 16 months. Receiving this award is truly an honor,” she said, crediting her success to “the amazing committee for the vaping campaign, my family and friends who supported me, my professors in my program and everyone at Sacred Heart University.”

Diaz created the “Know the risks. Know the resources. kNOw VAPE”campaign with Anna Greer, professor and director of SHU’s public health program; Kerry Morgan, professor in the health science program; Jessica Samoulis, psychology professor, and Victoria Adams, tobacco program coordinator at SCSU. Her aim was to educate the SHU community about the issues and health concerns surrounding vaping.

“We developed our campaign with three main goals in mind: to increase awareness of risks associated with vaping, prevent vape use among never-users and reduce or eliminate use among current and occasional users,” said Diaz.

After the campaign launched, SHU administrators moved to make the campus tobacco- and vape free. “It is remarkable to see signs about this posted across campus—in our libraries, classrooms, building entrances…you name it. I hope this impact will encourage students within the University to make the efforts for a healthier lifestyle, but also break the walls and spread to the rest of the Bridgeport and Fairfield communities,” said Diaz.

Diaz, originally from New Hampshire, graduated from SHU in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in health science, concentrating in health care administration. She also had a double minor in psychology and management. She is now pursuing her master’s degree in public health with a concentration in health communications. Diaz is a research graduate assistant for the masters in public health program, where she began her work on the vaping campaign. Her other research projects include: a corner store assessment, Bridgeport intersection data collection, farmer’s market data collection and the mental health initiative at SHU. She also interns at the Stratford Health Department, working on efforts to bring vaping awareness to residents of Stratford, Fairfield and Trumbull.