In Combating COVID-19, Student Ambassadors Show the Power of Pitt

Three students stand on a sidewalk with face masksMatt Green, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, wanted to play a bigger part in keeping his community safe during the pandemic. When he heard about the University’s Off-Campus Safety Ambassadors program, he applied for a part-time job as an ambassador immediately.

“I know I can wear a mask and social distance, but it really works better when everyone else is doing it too,” said Green.

In this role, Green and his fellow student ambassadors distribute masks, hand sanitizer and informational materials to Pitt students living in the Oakland communities that surround the Pittsburgh campus.

Think of them as your friendly neighborhood Panther pals, spreading information and resources to students living in off-campus housing rather than viruses.

Inspired by Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner to support the health and safety of off-campus students, the program is managed by the Division of Student Affairs and Office of Community and Government Relations (CGR).

“This is a really important initiative,” said Bonner. “I want to thank the team for this. We were thinking of ways to mobilize students to promote safety for off-campus populations, and now it’s fully running.”

Thirty ambassadors make up six teams, each of whom takes a different “beat,” or neighborhood, in Oakland; so far, teams have completed 950 student engagements over nearly 100 rounds and distributed 176 masks. Besides providing pandemic-related health and safety materials, the ambassadors also hand out postcards featuring information about relevant resources like the University Counseling Center and Pitt Pantry.

“This is an opportunity for us to educate and support off-campus students on following public health guidelines,” said Lexie Elliott, assistant director of fraternity and sorority life in the  Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development.

“Student Safety Ambassadors are a visible embodiment of the Pitt Community Compact and the University’s continued commitment to work with surrounding Oakland neighborhoods in sustaining a culture of health and safety both on and off campus,” added Alex Toner, assistant director of community engagement in CGR.

Building community in our neighborhoods

Katie Gerber, a senior studying accounting and business information systems, became an ambassador because she loves the University and wants to help keep it safe—and that includes its surrounding communities.

“It’s great getting out there and being able to represent what Pitt is all about,” said Gerber. Her encounters have been friendly so far, she said. “Everyone is genuinely curious about what we are doing and has had lots of questions.”

Her favorite conversations have focused as much on people’s gardens or the dogs they are walking as they have on COVID-19 health and safety information; many of those she’s interacting with are people she wouldn’t have gotten the chance to meet before joining the program. “There are a lot of people like myself and the other ambassadors who want to protect our community. It really shows we’re not alone in this, and the best way to get through is together.”

The easiest way to connect with these off-campus ambassadors is to say hello when you see them; you’ll know them by their bright green or blue T-shirts. Additionally, student pods or households can request “Virtual House Calls,” which are peer-to-peer conversations that focus on best practices to mitigate COVID-19.

“I felt it was important to step up and play my part in all this, and I encourage my fellow peers to do the same,” said Gerber. “It takes all of us to show the Power of Pitt.”

If you have questions about the program or how to connect with an ambassador, email off-campus-ambassadors@pitt.edu.

The Off-campus Safety Ambassadors program is one of several initiatives where Pitt community members—students, faculty and staff alike—support the safety of each other and the entire Pitt community.

Through the Pandemic Safety Network, staff and faculty have volunteered as Building Safety Concierge providers, serving alongside access control employees and student workers to provide additional support at designated campus building entrances across all campuses. Some serve as Pandemic Safety Ambassadors, where they are helpful resources for colleagues within their units to assist with safety questions and the execution of their unit’s operational plans.

Read more about the Pandemic Safety Network.

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