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I interviewed so many women for my SWD book who talked about how great camp had been for them when they were kids. They referred to camp as “life changing” and how it helped them know, at such a young age, that they were not alone. I was 14 when I was diagnosed and too cool for camp, but I realize now how much going to camp and meeting other kids with diabetes would have helped. So, I was happy to learn about Students with Diabetes, a program at the University of South Florida started by Nicole Johnson. Below is my conversation with USF student Paige Wagner.


Q: How did the idea for Students with Diabetes first come about? Did you participate yourself? If so, can you tell me a little about your experience….

Bringing Science Home is a University of South Florida program designed to understand the needs of people living with chronic conditions and to improve the quality of life for those people. Bringing Science Home is broken down into many projects currently focused on diabetes. In Fall 2010, Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999, created Students with Diabetes to be a tool for young adults transitioning into independence. Nicole was diagnosed whilst in college, so she knows all about the need for a connection when you’re trying to find your independence as an adult with Type 1 diabetes.

My first year at USF began August 2009. A year went by before I recognized that I could really use a little support. I had never had diabetic friends, but I’d always had supportive people (like my parents) who understood what they needed to do in times of blood sugar swings. I found myself feeling like the only person in the world who lived with diabetes! Being a rational person, I knew there must have been peers with diabetes on campus– but where were they?! I finally asked my nurse practitioner if she knew of any kind of diabetic community on campus. She didn’t know the specifics, but she told me to e-mail Nicole Johnson. I did and learned there was a Students with Diabetes meeting the next day. I went and met people my age who understood how it felt to live with the condition… and I was left awestruck. I intended on being as involved as possible with this organization and now I am fortunate enough to work with Nicole & the Bringing Science Home team as I lead Students with Diabetes.

I think it’s amazing what you can find, if you’re looking hard enough for it.
And I’d like to clarify that “students” with diabetes is not exclusively for university students! Our target audience is young adults 18-30 years old. We have a number of members that are not university students, just students of life. 🙂

Q: What have you found to be the biggest benefit of this program for students with diabetes?  

Students with Diabetes has connected me with countless diabetics, both locally and nationally. These intimate connections are made within minutes and are invaluable.
The connections make me feel safer than I’ve ever felt in regards to diabetes because I know there are people who will be there for me. I can turn to my peers to vent my frustrations, ask about technologies I have yet to try, and rely on them in times of need. Just as satisfying is the fact that these friends can depend on me for the same support.

My new found safety net was made evident to me, funnily enough, by the fact that all of the sudden my Facebook newsfeed was filled with Type 1 related posts! It’s a daily reminder that I have real network of friends who face the same problems I do.

Q: What have you found to be the biggest challenge for students when they leave home and go off to college?

Whether you are diabetic or not, the most difficult part of leaving for college is having to discover who you are as an independent person. You have to figure out how you want to spend your time, who to be friends with and how to create friendships (because friendships don’t just happen, as television sitcoms would have you believe).

A lot of people juggle work, academia, and trying to establish a social life– but focusing on those things without diverting some attention away from diabetes management is tricky. For me, my Students with Diabetes connections really help keep me on track.

Q: Can you tell me about the annual conference, what can students expect to see, hear and do?

I am so excited for this years Students with Diabetes National Conference. It’s my favorite way to start the summer! We hosted something along the same lines last year called DTreat and it was really worth it. Diabetics from across the nation come to make friends, learn, and have a fun weekend. We have speakers who lead discussions ranging in topics, but I think the most interesting is about advances in technology that are in the works. But I digress…

Essentially, the conference is like a weekend camp designed for adults 18 to 30 years old. The conference is going to be mainly on the University of South Florida campus (in Tampa, Florida) except for a couple excursions including a ropes course and a trip to Busch Gardens. Housing, food, and events are all included in the registration fee.

We are giving any of your blog readers early registration discounts so the fee is only $40. The deadline to register is May 1st.

A more detailed schedule of the conference, the registration form, and information about Students with Diabetes is on our website:
www.Studentswithdiabetes.com

Q: What’s the best advice you received or can offer a student with diabetes who is getting ready to go to college?

If you have lived with diabetes for more than two days, you probably already know to pack everything and be prepared for emergencies. The best advice I can give is to put yourself out there! There is no better time than your first few months of school to try new things and make new connections, because there are so many students who are trying to do the same thing. The older you get, the more difficult it becomes. So now is the time to reach out. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.

Mildly interested in a student organization or event? There is no shame in going alone. People are there because they want to be social and have a shared interest. With any luck, they’ll embrace the new addition to their group/event.

Eating alone in a dining hall? Ask if a fellow lone-diner would care to join you (9 times out of 10 they will say yes).

Friendships and support are really important when it comes to health. The more relationships you establish, with fellow diabetics or non-diabetic-peoples, the safer you are. Friends watch your back, recognize when you’re out of it, and after a while they know exactly how to handle your health crises. Four years seems like a lot of time, but it goes by faster than you know. Hit the ground running and build as many bridges as possible!

I have to plug this:
If you don’t have a Students with Diabetes chapter at your University but you’re interested in the idea, email me and I will help you create your own! It will be nothing but beneficial for your health and sanity, while looking great on a resume. I’m very easy to get in touch with and always interested in making new connections, so feel free to write with any interest or inquiry.  vpwagner@mail.usf.edu