Public Health Ambassadors share their experiences

Junior Chase Anderson, a Public Health Ambassador, throws up the U near Lakeside Village on Sept. 26. Photo credit: Jay'la Evans
Junior Chase Anderson, a Public Health Ambassador, throws up the U near Lakeside Village on Sept. 26.
Junior Chase Anderson, a Public Health Ambassador, throws up the U near Lakeside Village on Sept. 26. Photo credit: Jay'la Evans

The University of Miami has implemented a variety of services to educate the campus on how to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most notable being the public health ambassador program. Constructed by the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, the public health ambassador program employs students with the goal of promoting accountability and Covid-19 guidelines.

For senior Fedelene Camille, becoming a public health ambassador matched her interests and career goals.

“I am an aspiring doctor, so the healthcare field has been something that has always been an interest for me,” Camille, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, said. Camille wants to become a doctor and sees value in educating the UM community about staying healthy.

Camille says many of the other public health ambassadors joined because they had always wanted a career in the medical profession and they feel this has been a great opportunity to get a feel for what it would be like.

Freshman Madelene Shewmaker had a slightly different approach going into the job.

“At first I saw it and thought that it sounded kind of interesting, especially since it was open to all students regardless if you were an incoming freshman or not,” Shewmaker said. “I thought it would be really empowering since I’m just starting my time here at the U.”

Shewmaker feels it has been a great opportunity to explore aspects of her public health major, and says it got her more familiarized with campus and allowed her to make connections with other students right off the bat.

While ambassadors may have joined for different reasons, they all have the same duties to attend to.

Ambassadors are assigned a zone of campus to monitor. As they monitor their zone, they make sure individuals are wearing their masks properly, and also do things such as check that the alcohol wipe and hand sanitizer dispensers are full and that all facilities have proper markings to enforce social distancing.

For Camille, the most crucial aspect of her job involves educating. All of the public health ambassadors are trained to solve problems that may hinder individuals from following campus guidelines.

“If someone came up to me and said that they couldn’t wear their mask because of something, we are able to provide them an alternative,” Camille said. “For example, I had someone say that it hurt their ears, I let them know that I understood their discomfort but reminded them they still needed to wear the mask while showing them a tip to alleviate the pain.”

However, parts of the job can still be difficult.

“It gets especially tough when I see that they’ll have it on when I’m in eyeshot, but once I leave they take them back off,” Shewmaker said. “I personally get discouraged since all we’re trying to do is help but it seems like we’re hurting.”

Nevertheless, the public health ambassadors are trained to be problem solvers and always try their best to educate and enforce, no matter how long it takes.

Camille recalled an exchange where she confronted a visitor who refused to wear a mask while exercising, arguing that it wasn’t required according to Coral Gables law.

“I reminded him that he was on campus and that UM has their own rules and regulations. Whether you’re exercising or not, you always have to wear a mask on campus,” Camille said. “We kept going back and forth until he brought up the issue that he might be breathing in too much CO2, and it could kill him.”

The exchange went on for some time, but Camille says she made a point to stay calm, and eventually the man put on his mask.

Both Camille and Shewmaker feel that the university thus far has done a good job handling the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that despite their job requiring them to come into contact with individuals who are not wearing masks, they still feel safe.

“I have never felt unsafe. I feel that we are doing a very good job by doing the most. I understand that there’s been a lot of pushback on school reopening, but I think what we’re doing is awesome,” Shewmaker said.