UD human services graduate Amanda Ayers has become Harvard University's first general health educator.

The perfect match

Human services grad Amanda Ayers goes from wellness internship to Harvard


8:13 a.m., March 24, 2016--Amanda Ayers came to the University of Delaware in 2003 with a passion to help people, but little idea as to how to make that a career. 

She found her answer freshman year when she enrolled in a workshop called, “Majorly Undeclared.” During the workshop, she learned about an undergraduate degree called family and community services (FCS), now known as human services, in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies

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“As an FCS major, I could develop tangible skills to help people,” said Ayers. “It offered a full time internship your senior year, similar to student teaching, which most other majors didn’t let you do. I was able to work a semester at UD’s Student Wellness and Health Promotion (formerly called Wellspring). That internship wound up being, hands down, the most important thing I did while at UD.” 

In 2013, Ayers was hired as Harvard University’s first general health educator. Working in the Department of Health Promotion and Education, she provides workshops about vital health issues including sexual health, mindfulness and meditation, sleep and self-care. 

She supervises two student groups, Sexual Health and Relationship Counselors (SHARC) and Health Peer Advisors and Liaisons (HealthPALs), and collaborates with numerous partners to develop programming and health initiatives targeting different communities and audiences at Harvard. 

“I truly love my job,” Ayers said. “I know in this day in age not many people can say that wholeheartedly. But I get to work with amazing, motivated, intelligent college students every day, providing programming around topics that are so necessary for them to become healthy adults. Seeing them grow up during their time here is such a pleasure. They change, grow, fail, succeed. It’s brilliant to watch.”

The path to Harvard

Ayers had not planned on having a career in higher education, teaching about sex. She had expected to become a high school guidance counselor. That was until she took a human sexuality course with Julie Wilgen, professor of human development and family studies. 

“This is where I realized my passion for sexual health education,” said Ayers. “On college campuses the discussion of sex is difficult, and with more talk about sexual assault than how to have fun, pleasure, great communication, we need more sex educators. I knew that I could have a hand in helping college students experience healthy sexual experiences.”

“Dr. Wilgen taught me about independence, strength, and doing things because you love them, not because you ‘should’ do them. I am forever grateful for the life lessons I learned from her.”

Then came Ayers’ internship at the Wellness Center. Under the guidance of director Nancy Chase, Ayers learned how to manage peer educators, develop training sessions and coordinate workshops, all focusing on the importance of sexual health and other wellbeing issues.

“I was challenged, motivated, and I developed an appreciation for what this type of work had to offer. The support, warmth, and love I received from the staff at Wellspring was an amazing experience and set me on a path to where I am today.”

Her dedication to her field and her studies earned her several awards at UD, including the 2006 Theodore S. Beck Scholarship, the 2007 CEHD Panel of Outstanding Seniors and the Rebecca W. McTernan Presidential Achievement Scholarship. 

But best of all, Ayers says she developed a solid network of support at UD. 

“I met some really great women through my experiences. I have stayed in contact with Nancy, calling her when I’ve struggled with decisions about picking a graduate school. I even found my first apartment in California thanks to contacts I made at UD.”

After graduating from UD, Ayers worked in Berkeley, California, as a sexual assault prevention educator before being accepted in the master of public health program at Boston University in 2012. From there, she was hired as a health educator at Harvard. 

“I met my husband the same time I started working at Harvard and just got married in January 2016. My husband has been in the fitness and health field for over 10 years, so we were naturally a perfect match,” she said.

Her advice to students is to take chances and explore your options. “Network, meet people, learn what other people are doing that you’re interested in. Learn how they got theirs. Most people’s career paths aren’t straight — so know that you don’t have to follow someone else’s path to find your own.”

Article by Alison Burris

Photos courtesy of Amanda Ayers

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