KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 24, 2021
A team of Kennesaw State University students are volunteering to help keep their fellow Owls safe during the pandemic, as the inaugural group of student health ambassadors in KSU’s Office of Emergency Management.
Now in their second semester, the student health ambassadors (SHAs) add another element to Kennesaw State’s response to the pandemic. The SHAs work volunteer shifts on campus, encouraging safety measures such as wearing masks and social distancing and giving out pre-packaged kits containing a face mask, hand sanitizer and information on Kennesaw State’s COVID protocols and resources.
“We wanted to add a student/peer component to the University’s pandemic plan, which also would make the overall response more comprehensive,” said Andy Altizer, Kennesaw State’s director of emergency management. “The student health ambassadors want to be part of the solution. It’s one thing to say that you’re living through history, but these young people are working through history to decrease the impact of COVID-19.”
The ambassadors don’t have any enforcement or regulatory authority, relying instead on a friendly, encouraging approach to providing a mask to a person without one or offering information such as how to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The campus community’s response to the student health ambassadors has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Havan Temesghen, a student assistant in the Office of Emergency Management and the SHA program manager.
“This is relatable for students because, if you see a peer who is advocating healthy behavior, I think you’ll be more willing to listen,” said Temesghen, a senior majoring in public health education. “We’re pleased that faculty and staff also have been seeking out the SHAs to talk with them or ask for a kit.”
Wearing T-shirts identifying them as SHAs, the ambassadors typically walk through campus buildings and strike up conversations with students who aren’t wearing face coverings. They also can be seen manning information tables in high-traffic areas indoors or outdoors, or taking a few moments to share their message with a fellow student before or after class.
“When I heard about being a student health ambassador, it was something that I had to do,” said senior biology major Mikaya Franklin. “I felt that by doing something as small as handing out masks and hand sanitizer, I was making a difference on campus. When the pandemic is all over, I'll be able to say that I played a part in helping our campus through it.”
KSU senior Alexis Blackstone, a psychology major, said she “jumped at the opportunity” to be a student health ambassador because she is passionate about physical and mental health. While the program is a natural fit for Blackstone and other students in health-related majors, the SHAs represent a range of Kennesaw State academic programs such as civil engineering, software engineering, information systems, history education and criminal justice.
“Having students from very different majors as part of our program adds to the inclusivity of what we do,” Temesghen said. “Promoting a healthy environment for everybody is something that a lot of students are very willing to take on. I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
The Office of Emergency Management wants to build on the program’s success and add more student health ambassadors, particularly for the Marietta Campus. The plan also is for the SHAs to continue beyond the pandemic, to serve as advocates amid any future public health concern or other emergency preparedness outreach opportunity.
“We look forward to COVID being over, but the student health ambassadors will not end with COVID,” Altizer said. “This is the beginning.”
– Paul Floeckher
Photos and video by Jason Getz
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.