How UCF’s student ambassadors combat COVID on campus

University of Central Florida's ambassadors reward safety in-person and offer genuineness online

Dozens of “Armor Up” ambassadors at the University of Central Florida carry backpacks full of t-shirts, hand sanitizer and candy to encourage their fellow students to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The university, one of the nation’s largest, is paying 60 students part-time to station themselves at high foot-traffic locations. The ambassadors remind their peers to use UCF’s daily health checker app and hand out masks to anyone who doesn’t have one.

The ambassadors, who also hand out rewards to students wearing masks, have been trained in the university’s COVID policy and in how to talk to people about changing their behavior, says Maureen Hawkins, the university’s director of wellness and health promotion services.

“I’m really thrilled with the reception—students are glad to see our ambassadors out and about,” Hawkins says. “They’re saying ‘You’re part of our community, and you can make a difference in helping others stay healthy and safe.’ That’s really empowering for our students to learn.”

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The ambassadors, who recorded about 17,000 interactions in their first month on campus, are assigned to high-traffic areas such as the library, student union, parking garages and bus loop locations.

They were recruited via social media and other channels, and many are graduate and undergraduate health science and education majors.

“Having a healthcare background, I had an urge to contribute during this pandemic toward the wellbeing of people,” says ambassador Aishwarya Joshi, a graduate student studying health service administration. “Being an ambassador seems a perfect opportunity to make a change.”

Students were initially apprehensive about completing the self-checker but “things have changed drastically,” Joshi says. Students are now using the app, and showing their results to the ambassadors.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Combatting #COVID on campus: How UCF’s part-time ‘Armor Up’ ambassadors encourage fellow #collegestudents to stay #safe @UCF @HealthyKnight @ReginMantuano ” quote=”Combatting #COVID: How UCF’s part-time ‘Armor Up’ ambassadors encourage fellow #collegestudents to stay #safe” theme=”style3″]”The maximum number of people comply with this policy but there are a few who do not,” Joshi says. “I try to change their minds by explaining the risk factors but cannot enforce these choices.”

Social media strategies

Another two dozen students are working around the clock as unpaid COVID social media influencers.

These students are using their established followings to post about topics such as how to power through long days of online learning and taking graduation photos during the pandemic.

Regin Mantuano is a UCF social media ambassador
Regin Mantuano is a UCF social media ambassador

Regin Mantuano, a  junior studying marketing, and his fellow social media ambassadors have logged more than 2.5 million impressions on UCF’s Instagram, YouTube and TikTok channels.

“I hear a lot of students talking about graduation, football games, and dealing with online learning,” Mantuano says. “It has been quite stressful for some students to adjust to the new normal and I have been trying my best to validate whatever emotions they are feeling right now.

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Mantuano, who says his social media strategy is to create lighthearted and informative content about public health and safety, recorded a hand-washing video for Instagram.

He also tries to be transparent and relatable and genuine.

“These are some ways to let people know that although we cannot see people physically, it does not mean that we can’t still have those genuine human connections,” Mantuano says.

“I try my best to be more vulnerable and genuine in my platform to let people know that my account is a safe place for them to connect,” he says.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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