UHEAN Partners with Universities to Address COVID-19 Challenges, Support Vaccinations

The Utah State University-based Utah Higher Education AmeriCorps Network (UHEAN) partnered with other universities in Utah to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic UHEAN members continued serving, when safe to do so, in classrooms, community health centers, hospitals and clinics. Across the state AmeriCorps members dropped contactless grocery orders door-to-door to the elderly or homebound, donated blood and helped clients remain in stable housing in the face of economic uncertainty.

While there is no typical day for our AmeriCorps members, you may find them working with students on literacy goals in a k-12 classroom, creating meal plans for a client with special dietary needs, doing rotations at a hospital’s neonatal unit, assisting a first-generation student apply to college, break trail on horseback with a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or building a home for rural or Native families in San Juan County.

“Our members do such great work for communities all over Utah, it was no surprise when they stepped up to show their support during the pandemic,” said Brittany Fish, UHEAN program manager. “We had USU students answer the call to keep our campus community safe as we worked with Student Affairs to create Aggie Health Ambassador positions.

Megan Kearn, a 20-21 UHEAN member, was stationed at the Agricultural Science building on USU’s main campus in Logan, where she helped students, faculty, staff and visitors comply with the university’s policies about mask-wearing and social distancing.

“I believe this job is making me braver and helping me learn how to deal with difficult situations,” Kearn said. “I have had to confront many people about wearing masks in the building even though it is inconvenient. I have learned new techniques to deal with difficult people and have hard conversations. These skills will definitely help me later in my life when I have to confront people in any aspect of my life.”.

Perhaps the most remarkable effort came by Southern Utah University nursing students serving in the UHEAN program.

“Of the sixty students rotating through the health department thirty-seven are AmeriCorps members,” said Vikki Robertson, administrative assistant for Southern Utah University’s Department of Nursing. “They have probably vaccinated about 7,000 people, with each student working two to three eight-hour shifts.”

In December, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department began receiving shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine and distributing the vaccine in Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties. Students began working with residents and administering the vaccine the first week of January 2021.

“We have had several calls from the community about what an awesome job our students are doing giving the vaccine,” said Robertson. “It was mentioned how kind and patient the students were, even when the recipient was not.”

Hunter Hagen, a second-year nursing student and third-term AmeriCorps member at SUU, said she was glad to be a part of the efforts.

“Some of the individuals coming into the Health Department to get the vaccine seemed like they had been waiting so long to get it, and they were finally able to,” said Hagen.

While nursing students make up a large amount of UHEAN’s program, students from diverse backgrounds enroll in interdependent service opportunities that allow them to practice a working knowledge of their unique course of study. UHEAN’s three focus areas are education, healthy futures and capacity building. Upon successfully completing a 300, 450 or 675-hour term of service, UHEAN members earn an equivalent education award to help pay back student loans.

UHEAN became part of USU in August 2018, with a mission of advancing the public purposes of colleges and universities by deepening their ability to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility. UHEAN partners with and recruits students from seven colleges and universities across Utah including USU, SUU, Salt Lake Community College, University of Utah, Dixie State University, Utah Valley University and Weber State University.

USU’s Center for Community Engagement is a Student Affairs department formed in 2013 with a mission to develop active citizens through community engagement and scholarship.

Those interested in improving and uplifting the community while earning an education award, may visit uhean.org.

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