As Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong extends his hand for a handshake, he reveals a black wristband with the words “Aware Awake Alive,” in blue writing.
“Aware Awake Alive is teaching Cal Poly students to look out for each other,” he said. “And that’s a lesson we can take everywhere.”
Prompted by the 2008 death of Carson Starkey, Aware Awake Alive is a program designed to raise awareness about alcohol poisoning. Its presence on campus heightened during Week of Welcome (WOW) and has since been visible all over campus.
Executive director of the program Duncan Montgomery said Carson’s parents, Julia and Scott Starkey, started a program called “With Carson” soon after their son’s death. The program saw local success, and the Starkey family saw it necessary to broaden its influence.
The Starkeys found Montgomery when they were in need of an entertainment attorney, and he aided in the creation of Aware Awake Alive.
“I took them to an advertising agency in Texas,” Montgomery said. “And there we re-branded ‘With Carson,’ and came up with Aware Awake Alive.”
Those three words, Montgomery said, encompass what the program aims to teach.
“We want people to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “We want them to be awake in every sense. And we want them to stay alive. You can see how important the three words are. They really dictate what the program is all about.”
Aware Awake Alive has implemented programs at Cal Poly and at universities in Texas, where the Starkeys live, Montgomery said. The Starkeys hope to expand to universities across the country.
“We’d like to be the go-to resource for educational materials related to alcohol poisoning,” Montgomery said. “We’d like to spread our message to individual universities.”
Aware Awake Alive’s five-year plan includes broadening its influence to different types of universities by working with chancellors and customizing materials as needed by different types of schools, Montgomery said. The organization hopes to reach at least 75 percent of college students in the nation within five years.
“We want to get the message out there, provide advice, show how we’ve done it at different kinds of schools and let schools pick which program will work for them,” he said.
Montgomery and the rest of the Aware Awake Alive team are using Cal Poly as an “incubator” for new programs and possibilities to spread their organization. The program has worked closely with University Housing, WOW and Friday Night Live to make Aware Awake Alive a household name within the Cal Poly community.
WOW board member and awareness committee co-chair Patrick Fina said Aware Awake Alive and WOW share a common goal.
“We look to equip students with the tools to make educated and safe decisions regarding the choices in their lives, as well as do all we can to encourage the community atmosphere that is so crucial during formative college years,” he said.
WOW incorporated Aware Awake Alive’s videos into its awareness gallery and collected more than $2,000 in donations for the program, Fina said.
WOW’s work with Aware Awake Alive was hands on, allowing students to see the real-life effects of alcohol poisoning.
“We want to do everything we can to spread the program,” Armstrong said. “This is a Learn By Doing program.”
Other campuses in the California State University system have expressed interest in the program, and Montgomery said they are looking to create a “toolbox” that universities can use to implement their programs.
“Not all universities will need the same materials,” he said. “Big universities need a different program than smaller ones; small town schools will need a different program than schools in big cities. So we’re going to allow (the universities) to customize their program.”
As for its impact, Armstrong said it’s too soon to tell whether or not Aware Awake Alive has made a significant impact on campus, but he attributes the recent behaviors of the Alpha Phi pledge to the incorporation of Aware Awake Alive into WOW presentations.
“That story was a direct example of the impact of the program,” he said. “They were aware of the symptoms and made sure they got to the hospital. We’ll never know, but her life could have been saved because of that program.”
The most important thing for students to know, Montgomery said, is where Aware Aware Alive really stands on the issues of drinking and alcohol poisoning.
“We are opposed to binge drinking,” he said. “We are opposed to drinking and driving. But where we really stand is that regardless of the choices you make, if you find yourself in a bad position, we aren’t going to judge you. We’re more worried about getting people information, and less about how they got in a position where they need our help.”
Montgomery said he hopes a hotline is in their future — one that students can call at any hour of the day if they need a resource.
Armstrong said he sees Aware Awake Alive as a spirit that needs to catch on with the student body as a whole.
“Mustangs don’t ignore fellow Mustangs,” he said. “This program is a call to action to really look out for one another, and keep each other safe.”