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HERE ambassador program serves as a reminder to follow guidelines

| Friday, August 14, 2020

As students navigate their first days back on campus, HERE ambassadors strive to guide the Notre Dame community in protocols designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Torence Witherspoon, a HERE ambassador, said the program was created this summer to be a positive force that addresses the needs of students, faculty and staff as they return to campus and adjust to following the many new policies necessary to keep the University open.

Karen Sunshine, director of game day hospitality, played an integral role in creating the HERE ambassador program. To fill the ambassador roles, the University pulled approximately 45 employees from different departments — including Special Events and the Morris Inn — whose previous jobs would have been hard to sustain in the era of COVID-19, Sunshine said. These employees then underwent a three-day training program to prepare them to work as ambassadors.

“We learned to remind people about new safety measures and direct them to resources — on the website they have some great maps of outdoor spaces, and they have a dashboard that just went up this week of the latest testing data,” said Callee Stirn, a HERE ambassador. “A big part of our job is just being in physical presence to remind people to follow protocol.”

Now that students are back on campus and ambassadors are starting to put their training in action, it is becoming evident that the program may adjust, Sunshine said. While she said she believes students are doing a good job wearing masks, there are some instances that need to be better addressed by the ambassador program. Whether this means providing a laundry service to assist students in adequate washing of their masks or helping remind students to sit further apart when eating on the quad.

“Our job here is to is to further the goal of staying on campus, not just with the scientific portion of this plan, but also with a PR team in tune with the actual campus climate to make a cultural shift on campus so that we’re all engaging in the right protocols to stay here,” she said.

As an ambassador, Witherspoon also understands that life with coronavirus is hard to get used to and requires genuine effort to change normal habits.

“We understand that not wearing a mask is not about any disrespect or not wanting to follow the rules,” he said. “It’s simply that you guys are 18 to 22 year olds, and this is not a normal environment for you guys to be in. We understand that, but we also want to succeed in our goal of staying here all semester because we understand the importance of the Notre Dame experience that comes along with the educational experience here. So we’re physical reminders of the HERE policies to help that goal be successful.”

As far as the current success, Sunshine, Stirn and Witherspoon all agreed that students, faculty and staff have exceeded expectations for following policies, especially mask wearing.

“I think we’re doing a good job,” Witherspoon said, “but that doesn’t mean take your foot off the pedal. With a pandemic, when we’re talking about transmission, 3 to 5% of non-compliance can be an issue. I do think that largely students are doing their best and really want to engage in these protocols so that we can stay here all semester.”

In essence, Sunshine said, the ambassador program aims to be the human side of the HERE campaign on campus. Touched by a recent conversation with a student, Sunshine said the program is especially important because it may be what helps campus stay open. Ultimately, students, faculty and staff should have one takeaway about the ambassador program, she said — ambassadors are open, approachable and just trying to make this semester more positive for campus.

“When you’re coming in contact with your ambassadors, and they’re encouraging you to put on your mask or to physically distance, it really is because we want to be able to be here and stay here and enjoy this campus for what it is,” Witherspoon said. “We just really believe in what the end goal is here — to stay on campus. As a community, we all have to commit to that.”

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