Students with a Goal: Keep Campus Open

a woman in a black dress wearing a Pitt branded mask and sitting on a bench outside Heinz ChapelWhen COVID-19 struck Pittsburgh, academics, administrators and staff gathered to figure out a plan for the safest possible return to campus—and University of Pittsburgh students were an integral part of the process from the beginning. Now that fall term is underway, they’re continuing to help shape the University’s public health response in important ways.

On the Implementation and Oversight Committee (IOC), for example, Sai Bhatte, a senior majoring in neuroscience and economics in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, convenes a weekly subcommittee of students.

Implementation and Oversight Committee Student Members

  • Callen Adomitis
  • Sai Bhatte
  • Winifred Cummings
  • Alexandra Curtis
  • Bethany Flage
  • Shekina Gonzalez-Ferrer
  • Ryan Schonachler
  • Clara Wang
  • Timothy Withington

In the beginning, Pitt’s Healthcare Advisory Group tasked IOC tasked with examining the medical and behavioral factors that must be considered for a safe return to campus. Now, the nine students from different backgrounds, ages, disciplines, athletics programs and schools are focused on trying to keep campus open.

“It’s valuable to have diverse perspectives,” said Bhatte, “because I have no idea what it’s like to be a studio arts student right now, for example.” But “you hear complaints from your friends, your peers, your professors—to be in a position to take that to someone in power and make a change is really impactful.”

Bhatte, president of the Student Health Advisory Board, was mere weeks into her term last spring, serving as the liaison between Student Health Service and the student body, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent everybody home.

“My big driver is holistic health. Not just one part, but how whole systems interact,” Bhatte said. Sitting on the IOC has given her a close-up view of how institutions respond to public health crises in real time.

Bethany Flage, a third year PhD student in infectious disease and microbiology within the Graduate School of Public Health, who co-chairs the student subcommittee with Bhatte, agreed. 

a woman in a blue and gold face covering“With students moving back, both on and off campus, we knew we would see cases, but a major responsibility of the IOC has been to come up with creative and effective ways to mitigate this as much as possible and make sure students get the information they need,” said Flage.

“I think it's been really interesting so far. I've learned a lot just sitting in on the meetings. And by reaching out to other students. I definitely feel like they're hearing our input as students and doing things in response to what we say. I hope for everyone's sake that making sure there's open and honest communication between all parties continues to be a priority.”

Flage is looking to recruit more graduate and professional students to the IOC, in particular, and said anyone interested can contact her. Currently there are just two: herself and Shekina Gonzalez-Ferrer, a PhD student in microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine.  

“One thing I am learning is the importance of communication, especially when it can't be face to face,” said Flage.

"I feel like it's a lot of people doing their best, and now we're waiting. Because there are so many factors that are outside of our control,” said Bhatte.

But both note that there seems to be a public will to stay together in Pittsburgh, even if from a physical distance of 6 feet.

“It seems like people are getting creative with socializing in their pods,” said Flage. “You see people out and about in Schenley taking advantage of the weather. It’s been hard, but I think people are doing their best to adapt.”