The Catamounts Care Ambassadors, a student-led and campus supported program to build awareness of pandemic protocols, in collaboration with Student Health Ambassadors from five other higher education institutions have been recognized for innovation in programing to stop the spread of COVID-19 within the region and on respective campuses including Western Carolina University.
The team earned second place from the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities in a recent competition and will be presented an award and gift cards during a virtual summit April 21-22. The consortium connects health and wellness professionals from academic institutions in pursuit of healthier campuses by sharing best practices and to set national standards.
“Being a Catamounts Care Ambassador has taught me how to be a better leader in our community,” said WCU student Ainsley McNeill. “I have learned firsthand how to work together to make a positive influence on each other and to help shape a culture of care.”
During the pandemic, WCU has worked alongside other regional institutions of higher learning (University of North Carolina Asheville, Mars Hill University, Brevard College, Warren Wilson College and Montreat College) and the Mountain Area Health Education Center of Asheville to demonstrate wellness programs for the safety of students, faculty, visitors and staff.
“The collaborative approach represented by these five campuses and MAHEC has had a major impact on slowing and managing the spread of COVID-19 on each of the respective campuses,” said Lane Perry, executive director of WCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. “The partnership strengthened each of the individual campuses’ efforts and inspired creativity, innovation and teamwork in unprecedented ways.”
Catamounts Care Ambassadors distributed stickers to recognize positive behavior, such as wearing face coverings, exercising proper physical distancing and other campus protocols.
“This ambassador initiative has gained such momentum in large part from the partnerships between all six institutions,” said Kol Gold-Leighton, the Back to College Health Ambassador project coordinator at MAHEC. “With leadership, action and support at the administrative and student lead levels, this project has propelled innovation and infused cross-institutional collaboration into the fibers of how students tackle COVID-19 on their campus.”
Students also developed social media and other communications to keep fellow students informed, including setting an example and positively reinforcing the Catamounts Care culture.
“Working with the students at WCU and the other universities to develop unique, innovative and impactful programming has been such a pleasure,” said Brian Garland, an adviser to the Catamounts Care program. “Their efforts have been a pivotal force in slowing the spread of COVID-19 across our campus and WNC.”
Amy Joy Lanou, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness at UNC Asheville credits cooperation and strength of communication. “This collaboration has supported a rapid and successful COVID-19 mitigation strategy with infection rates lower than regional or statewide ones while students continue living and learning on their campuses,” said Lanou, also a UNCA professor. “Student-driven peer education and support for are the key to our success.”