In partnership with the Interfaith Youth Core, Dominican fielded a team of 12 student ambassadors who fanned out throughout the Chicago area this summer, encouraging hesitant individuals to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and countering misconceptions about the shots.

The “Faith in the Vaccine” initiative focused on marginalized neighborhoods and suburbs hit hard by the pandemic. The students met with people in churches, youth centers, food pantries, and laundromats and, in collaboration with local medical centers and the Cook Country Public Health Department, helped organize free vaccine clinics at partner sites.

“So many of our students are essential workers and their family members are essential workers or they are undocumented and anxious about signing up for vaccines,” said Tara Segal, a university minister and director of the Faith in the Vaccine program. “Many of the areas that have been most impacted by COVID are the same neighborhoods in which our student ambassadors live, so they were especially invested in getting people vaccinated.”

Vaccine ambassadors also undertook the daunting task of reaching out to more than 3,000 of their fellow students to encourage them to adhere to the university’s vaccine mandate by uploading their records to the Wellness Center portal.

The ambassadors included undergraduates and graduate students, majoring in neuroscience, psychology, nursing, education and marketing. They received stipends for working 20 hours per week, with one hour dedicated to theological reflection.

Nathaly Valdivia Oberto-Besso, a biology/chemistry major, wants to pursue a master’s degree in public health and epidemiology and found her experience as a vaccine ambassador personally rewarding.

“I want to be a science detective, trying to figure out how diseases work and how to prevent them. I’ve had so many people in my family impacted by COVID. It was important to me to talk with people in my community to help them understand how to stay healthy,” Nathaly said.

Photo: Kristen Garcia