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Students serve as public health ambassadors to reinforce pandemic safety measures

February 4, 2021
health ambassador Sara WhittemoreSara Whittemore ’23, who’s volunteering this semester as a health ambassador for University Health Service, greets a student at a COVID19 testing clinic in the field house at the Goergen Athletic Center. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Peer advocates play a critical role in helping college students limit the spread of COVID-19 in campus spaces.

When COVID-19 hit the Houston community hard last summer, Sara Whittemore ’23 began working at a retirement home that had suddenly become understaffed.

“I checked temperatures, sanitized public areas, and made sure residents wore their masks, to make sure everyone was safe,” the health policy major says. “I knew I wanted to do something similar when I got back on campus to help the people I care about.”

Whittemore is one of 30 University of Rochester students who will be working with University Health Service (UHS) as public health ambassadors this semester to raise awareness of safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students include representatives from all four undergraduate classes, and domestic and international students. Whittemore was among those who volunteered at the Goergen Athletic Center this week as students returning to campus took COVID tests.

“COVID has been so destructive in so many ways,” she says. “If a small group of us can assist in making the campus a safe and healthy environment, count me in.”

Zoe Black, program assistant at UHS, says the student ambassadors will have several responsibilities this semester, including:

  • Attending monthly meetings with UHS leaders to discuss concerns on campus. These concerns will be submitted to the University’s COVID-19 committee.
  • Encouraging fellow students to follow guidelines to keep the community safe, such as wearing masks, keeping six feet away from others when possible, and washing hands.
  • Passing out hand sanitizer and masks.
  • Volunteering at the University’s flu vaccine and COVID testing clinics.
student health ambassador checks students in for COVID-19 testing clinic

One of the 30 student volunteers, Whittemore and other health ambassadors are helping raise awareness about safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Amy McDonald, associate director for health promotion at UHS, says the ambassadors will play a vital role in communicating the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available, whether that is on campus or elsewhere.

Students take lead in Public Health Ambassador program

Lauren Allende ’21 is a public health policy major from Orlando, Florida. She was looking for opportunities to help UHS with its COVID response and was asked to help form the Public Health Ambassador program. She’s one of three ambassador leaders, along with Sylvia Lin ’20 (T5) and Yuan Shang ’21.

“Although it formed because of COVID, I think it’s an extremely valuable program even without a pandemic affecting our campus,” Allende says. “It’s so important that students feel they can turn to other students for information or any resources they may need at any time.”

Lin, a biology major from Kunming, China, hopes to improve on the fall semester experience by holding monthly meetings with school officials and by launching more health promotion projects geared toward COVID-19 safety.

“The ambassadors serve as the communication link between students, UHS leadership, and the CURT (Coronavirus University Response Team), so the policymakers can incorporate feedback to provide students with better service, regulation, and the reassurance of a safe campus,” Lin says.

Ethan Hunt ’23, a biomedical engineering major from Syracuse, also wanted to help his fellow classmates create a safe environment.

“I think the goal of this semester is to make sure people realize we’re all becoming more condensed by returning to campus, so we need to realize that actions have consequences,” Hunt says. “We need students to carry over what they did in the first semester, since the (COVID) results were pretty good.”

Ian Poe ’24, a neuroscience major from Bethesda, Maryland, signed up to be a public health ambassador to make sure students follow social distancing regulations.

“We need to encourage them to do this through social media, reminders on bulletin boards, chalk drawings on the ground, and person to person feedback,” Poe says. “It’s vital to having a safe school.”

Read more

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