University hires 75 students to encourage healthy behaviors

By Ashley A. Williams and Amanda M. Perez

University hires 75 students to encourage healthy behaviors

By Ashley A. Williams and Amanda M. Perez
The new Public Health Ambassadors Program, formed to support the safe reopening of campus and COVID-19 operating plans, officially kicked off with a virtual training this week.

This year, as we all know, will look and feel different. With the fall semester quickly approaching, the University of Miami has implemented comprehensive policies and procedures that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

“All we need now is your commitment and responsibility to the health and well-being of your fellow ’Canes,” said President Julio Frenk in a message to the University community. 

To support a safe learning and working environment for students, faculty, and employees, the Butler Center for Service and Leadership has established a new team of public health ambassadors who will support the University’s COVID-19 reopening and operating plan. 

The team of ambassadors will enforce these guidelines on the Coral Gables Campus by offering support and utilizing peer-to-peer influence in order to encourage members of the campus community to engage in the healthy behaviors of physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and hand washing/sanitizing. 

“The idea began with senior administration, including Dr. Patricia Whitely, who wanted to utilize peer influence on the campus,” said Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center and the program’s organizer. “This is a great opportunity for our students to be leaders.” 

The student ambassadors also will help provide access to hand sanitizer stations and will hand out education materials about proper hand hygiene. 

“This new team of student-leaders is the embodiment of our ’Canes Care for ’Canes philosophy,” said Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs. “These students have stepped up to take an active role in safeguarding our campus community by reminding each of us daily how we can do our part to help slow the spread. We expect that anyone who is approached by members of this team while on campus will respectfully follow their guidance and instructions.” 

More than 270 students submitted applications to be considered for the program. Wiemer, alongside Lindsey Woods, the Butler Center’s assistant director, reviewed and evaluated each application individually. In the next phase of the process, the pair interviewed nearly 120 students and ultimately selected 75 of them—including team leads.

Wiemer and Woods said the public health ambassadors were selected based on their personal and pre-professional characteristics and experiences. 

“Some students have already been engaged with COVID-19 prevention efforts during the summer months within their respective areas of the country,” said Wiemer. “We also selected those individuals who are looking to engage with the campus community in a peer-to-peer, influential way. It was important for us to find individuals who care and who want to help us be responsible as we continue to reopen.” 

In a recent message Frenk pointed out that the University is focused on keeping the campus community safe. “Now we must trust not only our devoted faculty and staff, but our students, to care for each other,” he stated. 

The first online training session for the new ambassadors, hosted Wednesday by the Butler Center and the Office of Emergency Management, included several representatives of the University, including Ryan C. Holmes, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. 

“I’m a firm believer that students will listen to other students way before they listen to administration. So, I’m happy that all of you are taking the helm in being the up-front team to make sure that we will have a big win,” he told the students. 

Renee Dickens Callan, executive director of student life, also attended the training and offered words of gratitude to each of the students. 

“I want to thank each of you for giving your time and energy in working so diligently to keep the campus as healthy and safe as possible. With help from each of you, I am hopeful for the future of our campus,” said Callan. 

During the training, the 75 students got the opportunity to get to know one another and share their reasons for applying for the position. 

"I love Miami and education is really important to me, along with the safety of my peers and professors. I wanted to help keep Miami safe so we could continue to be at the U while taking the measures needed to make sure COVID doesn’t spread,” said Sawyer Garrity, a sophomore  music therapy major with a minor in psychology and songwriting. 

For Ryan Garay, a junior majoring in exercise physiology, this opportunity is a way to make a positive impact in his community. 

“I was excited when I got picked, because I feel like this is a good experience to be able to contribute personally as a pre-med student. It’s a way for me to help during this pandemic, even before I have any certifications in the health field,” he explained. 

Throughout the fall semester, students, faculty, staff, and visitors can expect the presence of public health ambassadors in high-traffic areas including the Student Center Complex, Whitten Learning Center, and Richter Library. They will be there on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and weekends between noon and 5 p.m. 

In addition to the Public Health Ambassadors Program, the Division of Student Affairs encourages students to report concerns about unsafe behaviors  to ’Canes Care for ’Canes. An online form  can be submitted, anonymously if desired, and University staff members will follow up.