Public health ambassadors are connecting peer-to-peer

The new Public Health Ambassadors Program was formed to support the safe reopening of campus and COVID-19 operating plans. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami
By News@TheU

The new Public Health Ambassadors Program was formed to support the safe reopening of campus and COVID-19 operating plans. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

Public health ambassadors are connecting peer-to-peer

By News@TheU
A cadre of 75 students have been hired to support safety on the University’s Coral Gables Campus and encourage healthy behaviors.

Editor's note: Throughout the Fall semester, News@TheU will share short posts about the student Public Health Ambassador Program put in place to assist in efforts to provide resources and educate people on requirements and guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the program, which involves 75 students, here


Luke Pyron
Luke Pyron said participating in the Public Health Ambassador Program has been a “worthwhile experience.” Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Monday, Sept. 28, 2020:

Working as a public health ambassador has become more than just a job for Luke Pyron, a senior at the University of Miami double majoring in biochemistry and religious studies.

“I'm glad I have the opportunity to do my position and although it is tiring work, I find it a worthwhile experience at the end of the day. And I feel like the university is doing everything with a high degree of positivity,” said Pyron. 

Established this fall by the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, the Public Health Ambassador Program, which aims to promote a culture of healthy living and accountability, has not only become respected and accepted among University students, faculty, and staff, but it has also become widely popular among other higher learning institutions. Other colleges and universities across the nation have implemented similar programs. 

“I think it's a great thing that they’re creating similar programs, because I feel like the model here is working,” said Pyron. “I feel that if more universities adopt the model and put their own changes to it, we can see what makes it better, what makes it worse, and try and find one common solution.” 

Two to three days a week, Pyron is tasked with monitoring zone 5 of the Coral Gables Campus, which includes the School of Law, Cox Science Building, and the College of Arts and Sciences. He said since starting his job, he has had mostly positive interactions. “One thing I like about the position is that I've gotten to know the areas of campus I patrol better than the back of my own hand,” said Pyron. 

“Regardless as to how long this pandemic is going to last, we need to treat it as a learning experience for everyone,” he said. 

To Pyron, becoming an ambassador felt like the right thing to do and is yet another way for him to do his part as a ’Cane, to keep others in his community safe. For the past month and a half, Pyron said he is also more appreciative of his institutional leaders and administrators for their sensible responses and thoughtful procedures throughout this critical time.

— Ashley A. Williams/News@TheU


Public health ambassadors meet and greet peers
Public health ambassadors meet and greet peers. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami 

Monday, Sept. 21, 2020:

Allie Frago is in her first year at the University of Miami and she couldn’t be prouder about being on campus, learning, and interacting with her peers. While taking a break in between classes Monday, she stopped by the Public Health Ambassador Program’s meet and greet event to check in and thank them for their service.

“I see ambassadors all the time, pretty much everywhere on campus,” said Frago, an accounting major from Miami. “Having them on campus is really awesome because it’s nice having someone around reminding those who need it to follow the guidelines.”

Lindsey Woods, assistant director of the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, said the center’s ’Canes for a Change week is always one of the most inspiring times of the fall semester. It allows students across the campus to engage with campus partners and learn more about student organizations that engage in service and leadership at and beyond the University.

“This group has been a pleasure to work with,” said Woods. “Honestly, they’re one of the most respectful and enthusiastic groups I have ever worked with. Each of them is always so ready to assist.”

University leaders stopped by the event to praise the public health ambassadors for their tremendous efforts thus far. 

“I am proud of our student ambassadors for really taking control, being in the forefront, and helping other students,” said Ryan C. Holmes, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “This program has been one that has been emulated by other universities. We are leaders, and it shows.” 

“It’s critical to keeping the University safe and open,” said Steven K. Priepke, senior associate dean of students. “We really are so grateful, and they are such a great group of young people who are really motivated to do the right thing.” 

Shifting gears from their usual workload, ambassadors Kyle Romero, Ashley Phillips, and Andrew Smith offered passersby a fanny pack, cup, or water bottle while also informing them about the work they do on campus to enhance the COVID-19 prevention efforts. 

“We are so happy to be out here—even in the rain today,” said Romero, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry. “It’s been exciting to get to know some many people while keeping the campus safe.”

   — Ashley A. Williams/News@TheU 


Anna Davis reminds the University of Miami community to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols while visiting the weekly farmers market on the Coral Gables Campus
Anna Davis reminds the University of Miami community to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols while visiting the weekly farmers market on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020:

The weekly Well ’Canes Market on the University of Miami Coral Gables Campus is back. While much of the community is thrilled with the news, public health ambassador Anna Davis wants to remind everyone to adhere to the protocols that have been put in place. 

“It’s important to wear your mask and try to go at a time when there’s likely to be less people, so that you can avoid large crowds. Keep your distance and maybe wait in the Foote Green until there’s space available to still maintain 6 feet of distance,” Davis pointed out.

Davis is one of the 75 public health ambassadors who work to ensure that higher-traffic areas on campus continue to stay healthy and safe.  

“Anytime there is an event on campus that pops up, the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, which manages the ambassador program, makes open shifts available to have added coverage to that area,” she explained.  

Davis, a senior double majoring in psychology and public health, said she applied to the program because she wanted to be involved on campus this semester in a unique way.

I knew that the campus was going to look very different, and I felt like it was a really great way to stay involved and have that peer connection with other people at school,” she said. “I also just wanted to do my part in helping the slow of the spread and helping the campus stay open.” 

As a team leader, Davis always makes sure her role as an ambassador is one of an educator and not an enforcer. 

“In my experience, I find that if you’re friendly with people on campus and approach them in a more empathetic way and not as someone who is looking to get them in trouble, they’re definitely more responsive,” said Davis. 

“Remember that it’s important to think about the safety and health of others. We need to keep reminding ourselves to be responsible so that we can continue to be on campus this semester,” is the message Davis wants to relay to the University community.

“I think it’s really important for people to understand why we have to follow protocols,” she added. “I feel like if you understand them, then you are more inclined to follow rules. And if we follow these rules, then that’s how were going to keep the campus open.”

      -  Amanda M. Perez/News@TheU


Transfer student Camila Treptow explains why her personal experience with COVID-19 inspired her to take on this peer-to-peer education role.
Transfer student Camila Treptow explains why her personal experience with COVID-19 inspired her to take on this peer-to-peer education role. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Friday, Sept. 4, 2020:

Camila Treptow felt like it was her duty to apply to the student Public Health Ambassador Program after the COVID-19 pandemic hit home in early July. 

“My whole family tested positive for the virus. Thankfully, my family and I only had mild symptoms, but I feel horrible for the people who unfortunately had worse symptoms,” she said. “I knew after my experience, I wanted to do everything possible to stop the spread because I personally know how bad it makes you feel and how easily it spreads.” 

As a recent transfer student, Treptow knew she wanted to take extra responsibility during her first semester as a ’Cane to help share the importance of working together to help slow the spread of the virus.

“We have to help each other and protect each other. It’s all about teamwork to make this situation better. Wearing a mask not only protects yourself, it protects everyone around you,” said Treptow. 

She believes students like her are the best people to spread that message. 

“People tend to mostly listen to people who are around their own age and in the same kind of situation. For example, when your parents tell you something, you tend to not listen as much as if your friend told you the same thing and you can relate,” she explained. 

She said her first month of the job has been positive. 

“It’s been pretty awesome. I’m very happy with how the students and faculty have reacted to the program. Almost everyone on campus is taking it very seriously,” Treptow said. “It’s just a couple people here and there who have to be reminded by the rules, but I’m really pleased with how UM is taking everything very seriously,” 

Treptow, who is a biology major, hopes to go to medical school in the future and become a pediatrician. She thinks her job as an ambassador will help in her future career. 

“Doctors in my family have told me that you learn most from interacting with people,” she said. “In this role, I will be able to witness human behavior, which I believe is really important if I want to study medicine.”

— Amanda M. Perez/News@TheU


Michael Antonietti, a senior majoring in biochemistry and nutrition, looks forward to a future career that includes public health.
Michael Antonietti, a senior majoring in biochemistry and nutrition, looks forward to a future career that includes public health.

Monday, Aug. 31, 2020:

The new Public Health Ambassador Program has positively affected several aspects of campus life since classes resumed on Aug. 17. For one senior, it has motivated him to tweak his post-graduate plans.

Just four weeks into the job and Michael Antonietti, a senior majoring in biochemistry and nutrition, has changed his plans of applying to a M.D. program and instead will apply to a M.D./M.P.H. dual degree program. The Chicago native said his new role, coupled with how marginalized groups are disproportionally affected by COVID-19, has helped him understand another side to medicine that’s often overlooked.

“It’s important to understand social determinants,” he said. “Doctors are so much more than medicine. I want my future patients to be able to talk to me about anything.”

Since his first year at the University of Miami, service has been a large part of Antonietti’s life. He was previously involved with the Butler Center for Service and Leadership and learned about the Public Health Ambassador Program from the Butler Center’s assistant director, Lindsey Woods.

“I felt it was my responsibility to my classmates. I want to be the one to set the example and lead the way,” he said.

A self-proclaimed “people person,” Antonietti enjoys his ambassador role and is pleasantly surprised of most student’s positive response to his presence. He’s stationed in zone five of the University—an area of campus that covers the Richter Library and Foote University Green; Ashe Administration Building; School of Law; Ungar, Cox Science, and Knight Physics Buildings; and the College of Engineering—and said he spends more time refilling hand sanitizer stations than having to tell people to wear their masks.

“It’s more about working with the Dean of Students and the facilities team providing wipes, ensuring proper signage is up, and making sure hand sanitizers aren’t running out than anything,” he said. “I think everyone understands that we have to make sacrifices if we want to be on campus.”

   — Ashley A. Williams/News@TheU 


University of Miami senior Evelyn Menkes fulfilled a personal desire by becoming a public health ambassador and promoting health and safety during the pandemic.
University of Miami senior Evelyn Menkes fulfilled a personal desire by becoming a public health ambassador and promoting health and safety during the pandemic. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

 

Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020: 

When Evelyn Menkes received the email about the University of Miami’s Public Health Ambassador Program, she felt compelled to apply. 

Service has always been a large part of Menkes’ undergraduate career thanks to the University’s Butler Center for Service and Leadership. Through diverse developmental responsibilities and leadership roles, she said, the Butler Center has expanded her leadership knowledge and skills exponentially. 

“Since it’s my last semester, I wanted to be able to give back in some way,” said Menkes, who aspires to be a physician one day. “They showed me the beauty of volunteering and social justice.” 

According to Menkes, the public health ambassador program has provided an opportunity to give back to a community that has given so much to her since becoming a ’Cane. 

“I’m from New York, so COVID-19 really hit my area heavily and I felt so helpless in the beginning. I felt like there was nothing that I could do back then,” she said. “Now that I’m back in Miami, I feel like it’s my responsibility to prevent it from spreading.” 

Now weeks into her new position, she said the response by students, faculty, and staff, has been positive. 

“One of the biggest things I’ve had to deal with are the people who don’t know who we are and are just interested in finding out what our job is,” she said. “It’s my responsibility to have a conversation and educate those people.” 

In addition to her new role as an ambassador, this semester Menkes is also the president of Alternative Breaks and co-chair of the ’Canes Emergency Response Team. 

         — Ashley A. Williams/News@TheU


Fedelene Camille
Senior Fedelene Camille explained that it is important for every member of the University community to do their part to keep each other healthy. Photo courtesy Fedelene Camille

 

Friday, Aug. 21, 2020:

As Fedelene Camille navigates her second week of a markedly different fall semester at the University of Miami, she can sense a new community forming among her peers on the Coral Gables Campus.

“I love that we’re meeting people; I love that we’re networking. But I also serve as a reminder that you have to social distance,” said Camille, one of 75 public health ambassadors hired by the University. “For the most part, students have been really responsive, positive, and respectful.”

Camille, a senior studying biochemistry and molecular biology, aspires to be a medical doctor one day. Coincidently, she was looking for a job this semester and once she received an email about the program, she jumped at the opportunity to apply.

“I find this job very rewarding and to know that I have an impact on the health of others,” said Camille. “As a senior, I think it’s really great I can contribute and be part of a team that is helping to keep campus open and safer by encouraging and informing peers about healthy behaviors.”

Camille has worked two shifts so far in the area around the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center, a popular meeting spot for students. She said the presence of ambassadors on campus has become valued.

“We are becoming recognized now by our shirts. So, when they see me approach, I don’t even have to tell someone to do something—they automatically see me, and they’ll fix their mask or something,” said Camille.

Overall, she is proud and excited to be fulfilling such an important role on campus. One day, she said, she looks forward to applying the knowledge she is learning today towards her future career.

For now, she will continue to try and keep the campus safe for everyone.

“I think it’s important for everyone to play their role,” she said. “If you see something, say something.”

— Ashley A. Williams/News@TheU


Alexandra Fioto shares why she thinks it’s important for ’Canes to care for other ’Canes. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
Alexandra Fioto shares why she thinks it’s important for ’Canes to care for other ’Canes. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020:

It’s cool to care. That’s the message Alexandra Fioto, who is a public health ambassador, wants her fellow peers to know. As she roamed about campus during her first week on the job, she made sure to remind the community about the important guidelines the University of Miami has put into place to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I aim to lead by example, and I think peer-to-peer influence is so important. If I show that I’m following the guidelines, I think others will want to follow them too,” explained Fioto. 

The senior said she decided to sign up for the program because she wants to make a difference.

“I just really wanted to get involved and do my part to make sure that I’m making campus and school a safe place for everyone. At the end of the day, this program is not designed to get people in trouble; instead, it’s supposed to positively influence the campus community,” she explained.

Her goal as an ambassador is to remind everyone that it is important for ’Canes to care for ’Canes. 

“Everyone should be adaptable during these unprecedented times. Ultimately, everyone wants to have that campus experience, so we all have to do our part now in order to work toward that. I think having a positive attitude toward the policies and changes is only going to help us get to that point,” Fioto said.

Fortunately, she has seen that people are doing their part. 

“I’ve had to remind people about the proper way of wearing their masks, but everyone is very polite. And as soon as I ask them to fix it, they comply,” she explained.

As one of the captains of the University cheerleading squad, Fioto hopes the campus can eventually get to a point where she can reunite with her teammates and practice what she loves to do. 

“Right now, we are not allowed to gather for practice, so I’m looking forward to any opportunity for a return. Cheer has been my passion and it’s brought me so much happiness, so being able cheer again would make me really happy,” she said.

Until then, she noted that she will continue to work hard as an ambassador and as a marketing student—one who aspires to enter the cosmetic industry when she graduates.

“I’m very interested in beauty and skin care; so, hopefully I’ll be able to get a marketing job in that field,” Fioto said. “I also really enjoyed my business classes, so I’ve also been considering the opportunity of going to law school. There’s lots of exciting stuff ahead.”

— Amanda M. Perez/News@TheU


First-year student Jacques Calixte is one of 75 public health ambassadors on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
First-year student Jacques Calixte is one of 75 public health ambassadors on the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

 

Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020:

For Jacques Calixte, a first-year student at the University of Miami, being involved in several roles simultaneously is nothing new. 

I’m used to a lot of responsibility. I was the type of person in high school who took on every single club and sport. So applying for the role as a public health ambassador felt natural,” Calixte pointed out. 

When Calixte heard about the creation of the public health ambassadors, who would support the safe reopening of the Coral Gables Campus, he thought it would be a perfect learning opportunity. He was one of 75 students selected for this important role. 

As part of the 2020 class of high school graduates, Calixte explained, “I personally know what it feels like to be affected by COVID-19. And as an aspiring physician, I thought it would be interesting to apply the love that I have for the health field. I really wanted to do something that would be able to help the community, so applying to this job felt like the best option.” 

As an ambassador, he hopes to continually keep educating people throughout the semester. “I just hope that people come up to me and ask me for information, and I hope to keep informing people and help influence them in following important guidelines,” said Calixte. 

He also admitted that he would use his role as an ambassador to meet new people and become familiar with campus. 

“I’m getting the opportunity to learn a lot about different parts of campus before other incoming freshmen. I’ve gotten lost a couple of times, but this role has made the process of coming to UM easier,” he said. “I actually have run into a couple of familiar faces while walking around, and I’ve made friends with people who have asked me for help.” 

Calixte was happy to report that his first week on the job was successful. “I only had to give out one mask throughout the whole week. The main problem I’ve come across is that people aren’t wearing their mask correctly. So, I’ve just had to remind them. But people have been very compliant about following the policies,” he said. 

Overall, Calixte is looking forward to starting his journey as a ’Cane. “I’m so excited to finally join the UM community,” he exclaimed. “I’ve heard a lot of great things, and everyone is really supportive. I know this year is going to look different, but I do hope I get to experience what it’s like to truly be a ’Cane!”

       — Amanda M. Perez/News@TheU