The Student Wellness Ambassador Team (SWAT), a Health Promotion and Wellness-sponsored student organization, has advocated for the health of Illinois State students for over 25 years.

Typically, the group’s efforts promote healthy habits such as practicing safe alcohol use, living an active lifestyle, positive sexual health behaviors, and practicing mindfulness. But this school year, the team faces its biggest health promotion obstacle yet—the global pandemic.

Teresa Wang, president of SWAT, knew the group would need to take an active role in encouraging safe behavior among and offering resources for Redbirds returning to campus.

“Because of COVID-19, we know that students are going through a lot of changes right now,” said Wang, a senior community health promotion major from Mahomet. “We wanted to put out a lot of information to help students and give them access to what they need.”

Wang worked with Associate Professor Dr. Jacqueline Lanier. They developed the idea for SWAT to train a team of ambassadors focused on trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 around campus. “This awesome new training teaches people how to be wellness ambassadors,” said Wang. “They are student leaders who walk the walk; they are the ones that are going to be wearing masks on campus and offering masks to students who don’t have one. They’re going to be making sure that everyone’s staying safe on campus.”

Tatum Flores, a member of SWAT’s executive board, was one of the first students to begin the wellness ambassador training program. Flores, entering her fourth year with SWAT, knew that she could make a much-needed difference on campus as a wellness ambassador.

“I think that seeing students advocate for this on campus is going to help other students be safe,” said Flores, a senior interpersonal communication major from Rock Island. “Students are going to want to follow the example of wearing masks because they’ll feel out of place if they’re not.”

The wellness ambassador training program began shortly before the start of the semester and is ongoing. The training reiterates important facts about the spread and prevention of COVID-19 and touches on topics such as face-covering hygiene and how to provide resources to students in need. As the wellness ambassadors prepare to make their debut on campus, the group is encouraging students from all backgrounds to consider joining.

“Anybody who is interested in becoming a wellness ambassador is more than welcome,” said Wang. “It doesn’t matter what your major is; if you want to be a wellness ambassador and help spread awareness about keeping the campus safe during this time, we encourage you to join.”

Students interested in becoming a wellness ambassador for this school year may apply using the group’s registration form.

While the Redbirds Together wellness ambassadors emphasize the importance of healthy habits such as physical distancing and wearing face coverings, mental health is another focal point of their efforts.

“Since students might not be able to see their friends and family, their mental health might not be in the best shape,” said Wang. “If they need someone to talk to or need meditations to be more mindful about their situation, we want to provide that for them.”

COVID-19 has created challenges and uncertainties for everyone, but Wang said it can also be seen as an opportunity for communities to come together and think outside of the box. “I think people are going to learn how to be more flexible,” said Wang. “They’re going to be able to take things in stride a lot easier in the future after dealing with this.”

As she prepares to enter the field as a public health professional, Wang credits her opportunities with SWAT and the Redbirds Together wellness ambassador program as integral to her future success. “I think that learning how to adapt will really help me out in the future,” said Wang. “As a community health student, there’s no better opportunity to learn about the field than keeping my campus safe right now.”