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College of Arts and Sciences

A&S COVID ambassadors help spread message of safety

By: Kathy Hovis
A&S Communications
November 2, 2020

As Cornell prepared to open for in-person instruction this fall, the offices of Student and Campus Life and Cornell Health reached out to recruit a host of COVID ambassadors, students who would help support the university’s public health campaign and reinforce the behavioral compact in an effort to minimize transmission of the virus.

We asked several of the ambassadors to share their thoughts on why they wanted to take on this important role and how they've handled the challenges of this semester.

Samantha Burke ‘22

Why did you volunteer to be an ambassador?

The reason why I volunteered to be an ambassador was because I felt that I wanted to encourage my friends to be safe and still have fun. It's easy to look at this semester and say that it will be no fun with all of the rules in place, but I wanted to assure them that we could be safe and responsible, all while having fun.

Samantha Burke
Burke
Has COVID affected you or your family in any way

COVID has definitely affected me and my family. In particular, my 90 year old grandmother got COVID a few weeks ago right before she was supposed to go in to get some of her melanoma removed. Additionally, my grandparents on the other side of my family have not been open to visitors. I realize that I have been lucky enough to not be too affected, but these are some scary times for the health of at-risk members of my family.

What have been some of your duties as an ambassador?

My duty has been on the social media team, due to my busy schedule. I'm on the women's ice hockey team, so most of my time away from school is spent at the rink. However, I wanted to be a positive influence on my team, roommates, classmates, etc., so I reached out to the ambassadors to see how I could still make a difference in my community!

Why do you think Cornell has been so successful in keeping numbers down?

Girl playing ice hockey
Burke is a member of Cornell's women's ice hockey team

I think that the thing that is really special about the atmosphere that we have created here at Cornell is that everyone WANTS to comply with the rules. Everyone wants to keep this community safe, the education going, the businesses open, etc. Ithaca is a special place and I think that all the students here recognize that. 

Overall, what have been the best parts of this semester for you? The most challenging?

I think that the hardest part about this entire semester has just been the repetition of each day, each week, each month. I think that it's important and healthy to try to shake things up a bit in any way that we can — whether it's finding a new study space, trying a new delivery spot, decorating your room, all those things have been super helpful for me to combat the monotony of a very online semester.

Peyton Carpen ‘23

Why did you volunteer to be an ambassador? 

After seeing the way that COVID-19 harmed my community back in Florida, I knew that I had to find a way to help prevent Cornell from suffering the same fate — and I thought that volunteering as a COVID-19 peer ambassador would be a great way to do that. 

Has COVID affected you or your family in any way?

girl holding a pumpkin
Carpen
Sadly it has, I lost a close family member to COVID complications. Please take this pandemic seriously, if not for yourself —do it for your loved ones. 

If you are on campus, how did you make the decision to return or stay? If you decided to stay home, why is being an ambassador an important role for you?

I stayed on campus because it was a much safer and financially stable option for me, given my financial aid and the state of the pandemic in my hometown. I know that is not an option for everyone, so I am very grateful to Cornell for offering me a safe place to stay on campus!

What have been some of your duties as an ambassador?

I mainly have been working the peer ambassador tents, which entails handing out masks, hand sanitizer and Cornell stickers. It's a small act but I see the Cornell masks, especially the stay-homecoming masks all over campus!

How do you balance this role with your desire to have fun and experience all of the normal activities of college?

Having fun, especially given the current state of the world is SUPER important for your mental health — but that doesn't mean you can't be safe! I always wear a mask with friends, unless we are eating or drinking, I also stay up to date with my tests and share my results with anyone that I hang out with to ensure we are all COVID free. 

Why do you think Cornell has been so successful in keeping numbers down?

It's very simple: people understand the importance of staying safe and responsible. I am so proud of the Cornell community for rallying together to be one of the few successful schools to actually re-open during this pandemic. Believing in science and following both Cornell and state protocol(s) is what differentiates us from other institutions.

Overall, what have been the best parts of this semester for you? The most challenging?

The best part has been doing in-person research and seeing my friends! The most challenging has been doing STEM classes online, especially organic chemistry. Using molecular models on Zoom is just not the same as in person!

What will be the most important things for students to remember as they head home for break and then return next semester?

PLEASE BE SAFE AND SMART, the health of you and your family should always come first. Self-quarantine when you get home, even if your state doesn't require it, you have no idea what you could have if you take a plane, car or train! 

Sean Hollander ‘21

Why did you volunteer to be an ambassador?

I volunteered as an ambassador largely because I live in a house with many other people and I wanted to play an active role in preventing the spread of COVID. The COVID peer ambassador program has helped provide me with resources to do that.

Has COVID affected you or your family in any way?

guy smiling
Hollander is an EMT with Bangs Ambulance in Ithaca
I work as an EMT here in Ithaca and COVID has certainly affected the way that we have to operate in order to stay safe. My mother is a public health nurse who has been working tremendously hard to control the spread of COVID in my hometown.

How did you make the decision to return or stay on campus?

I returned to campus because I was optimistic that Cornell's reactivation plan would be a success, and that turned out to be true! I am happy to be back on campus with my friends thanks to the Cornell community's dedication to staying safe.

What have been some of your duties as an ambassador?

I have handed out free masks with other peer ambassadors at the start of the semester and during homecoming. More importantly, I have taken a leadership role in my fraternity to enforce compliance with safety guidelines and figure out ways to socialize without putting anyone at risk, and we have not had any positives!

How do you balance this role with your desire to have fun and experience all of the normal activities of college?

It's taken some effort and creativity, but I have found plenty of ways to remain socially active with my friends during COVID including planning small outdoor events instead of large parties. I think it's important to not expect things to be totally "normal" but rather to be happy that we are in such a privileged position to have an in-person semester at all. Real life is not always comfortable. It's important to be grateful for what we have and to be able to adapt.

Why do you think Cornell has been so successful in keeping numbers down?

Testing, testing, testing. Extremely frequent, across-the-board testing is the key to controlling the spread of COVID. Once inexpensive rapid testing has been approved (fingers crossed), I hope the rest of the country can implement the surveillance testing that the Cornell community has been so lucky to have. I am also impressed that the majority of the Cornell community seems to be dedicated to actually following common-sense safety guidelines.

Overall, what have been the best parts of this semester for you? The most challenging?

The best part of this semester has definitely been being able to see my friends. The most challenging part has definitely been adapting to the different and unusual workload presented by online classes.

What will be the most important things for students to remember as they head home for break and then return next semester?

I think it's important to remember to be safe. Even without anyone telling you to. Even with politicians, social media friends and TV commercials assuring you that life is "back to normal." I hope we can all remember that life is far from "normal" and that we all have to do our part.

Marie Joyeuse Ingabire ‘23

Why did you volunteer to be an ambassador? 

I volunteered to be an ambassador because I wanted to help make our campus a safe environment for everyone

Has COVID affected you or your family in any way

Girl smiling
Ingabire
Yes, COVID did prevent my parents from working for a few months earlier this year.

How did you make the decision to return to campus?

I made the decision to return on campus because this is a better working environment for me. I knew it was going to be challenging given that we're in the middle of a pandemic but I also had confidence that we all can work through this.

What have been some of your duties as an ambassador? 

As an ambassador, I have volunteered in some tents over the campus and we've been handing people masks, hand sanitizers and other important products that are useful during this pandemic.

Why do you think Cornell has been so successful in keeping numbers down

I think Cornell has been successful because it has amazing staff, workers, students etc. We are all working together to limit the spread of the virus and everyone is playing an important role.

Overall, what have been the best parts of this semester for you? The most challenging?

The best part for me has been being able to hang out and work with friends while respecting the guidelines of course. Things are not the same when we're completely online. The challenging part has been watching recorded lectures and staying on track for classes that are not synchronized; it required a lot of organization and structure.

What will be the most important things for students to remember as they head home for break and then return next semester? 

I think students should remember that what you get out of every experience depends on how much you invest in it. Therefore wherever we are, we can always make our experience worthwhile.

Ella Yitzhaki ‘24

Why did you volunteer to be an ambassador? 

I volunteered to become a peer ambassador because I wanted to model and implement proper behavior to prevent COVID-19 from damaging my peers, faculty, and the Ithaca community at large. If we all work together, we can continue to have a fun, yet safe semester. 

Has COVID affected you or your family in any way

Girl outside mcGraw tower
Yitzhaki
COVID-19 affected my family personally. Not only were we all sent home from school and work, but my grandma caught COVID-19 in early March. Being an 85-year-old grandma who has already fought lung cancer and asthma, we were terrified for her life. Fortunately, she survived and was released from the hospital, but her recovery didn't stop there. It took her months to get back to "normal" but we expect that she is still dealing with long-term effects. This virus may not end in death for most, but everyone infected can detail the horrible experience this illness brings on. It is simply not a risk worth taking. 

How did you make the decision to come back to campus?

I decided to come to campus because I read/saw the incredible rules and testing regiment Cornell is adhering to. Now in November, we are one of the only universities in the world able to hold in-person classes, dine-in dining halls and provide housing for students. We should all hold a round of applause for Cornell's planning, Cornell's medical professionals and the students who decided to continue wearing their masks and staying apart. 

What have been some of your duties as an ambassador? 

I have mainly been handing out masks, hand sanitizers, and stickers! 

How do you balance this role with your desire to have fun and experience all of the normal activities of college? 

It's been surprisingly easy to balance my role as a public health leader and a student because I have just been continuing what I've always done — doing the right thing. These past few months have taught me how easy it is to stay close to people while staying apart. Whether it be eating outside with friends or wearing my mask in the library, it's all quite easy to do.

Why do you think Cornell has been so successful in keeping numbers down

Cornell's rare success can be attributed to the incredible planning from the summer, the medical professionals who work daily to keep the campus open and the students who understand the gravity of this illness and our collective responsibility. 

Overall, what have been the best parts of this semester for you? The most challenging?

The best part of this semester has probably been the environment Cornell offers. Between the people here, the enthusiastic professors and the gorgeous beauty, I am in awe. The worst part would probably be the academic workload. Online classes are still difficult for me to get used to.

What will be the most important things for students to remember as they head home for break and then return next semester?

I hope students remember that just because things look good now, doesn't mean we can let our guard down. We must continue to stay safe and vigilant for ourselves and each other.