Indiana University East students are playing a vital role in the ongoing COVID-19 mitigation testing, staffing the program and gaining helpful and even positive experience in the process.
While everyone is eager for the unprecedented pandemic to take its place in history, the students are making the best of the situation with hands-on work to further prepare them for future careers.
“I see this as an opportunity to gain experience in healthcare before actually starting my career,” said Regan Blinn, a freshman majoring in nursing with a minor in women’s and gender studies. “I am learning the significant amount of effort it takes from everyone to keep a group of people safe, like the students and faculty on campus.”
Carla Griffin, administrative assistant in the Office of External Affairs, was tasked with setting up and overseeing the program because of previous experience in infectious disease research. She spent four years as a research specialist in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Department at Emory University in Atlanta.
“Setting up testing, hiring and attending meetings took additional hours but the goal was to hire quality people who would run the testing without much direct oversight,” Griffin said, noting that she rarely goes on site now during the ongoing testing being handled almost exclusively by students.
She said the program is giving the student workers valuable experience in a variety of areas, including how to deal with people in high-stress situations.
“Learning how to assist others, especially stressed individuals, is a skill for life,” Griffin said.
Mitigation testing began in late August, with more than 200 staff and students being tested each week since. The number of tests are expected to increase to over 500 per week in February as Indiana University increases its testing capacity. The tests are specific to those who are asymptomatic to capture and quarantine those who may have the virus but not be experiencing symptoms. Griffin said approximately 50 tests have been found to be positive, with an average of two to three each week. Those individuals experiencing symptoms are directed to schedule a symptomatic test through a site also conducted on campus.
When a test is positive, the person hears from a contact tracer on next steps.
Besides getting to be on campus and involved during a time when most things are done remotely, Blinn cites a direct benefit of doing something that directly connects with her career plans. She also appreciates how kind most of the people doing the mandatory testing are “even though they may be frustrated at the same time.” The hands-on work has increased her motivation for a healthcare career.
“I’m more excited to do my part in the future because of this experience,” Blinn said.
Being in school to become a nurse during a pandemic could bring second thoughts to some because of the impact of COVID on direct caregivers.
“Studying to be a nurse during a pandemic is pretty intimidating. But I’m more than happy I am able to work and do what I can to help during this,” Blinn said. She hopes to work as a nurse immediately after graduating and eventually return to graduate school to become a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health.
Zachery Honeycutt, a senior majoring in biochemistry, has worked with the program since it started. He recently learned that he was accepted into Indiana University’s School of Dentistry. The work is excellent experience for his field.
“It is extremely helpful since I have been practicing proper protocol and safety precautions working with biohazard material. It has been similar to working in the labs in classes,” Honeycutt said.
The experience of practicing proper safety protocols is invaluable for his future plans.
“The most significant thing I am learning is how to handle COVID restrictions and follow safety measures,” Honeycutt said.
One very hands-on post Honeycutt often works involves the people being tested getting their saliva into a tube. He makes sure the person has enough saliva in their tube, helps with getting it capped when needed and ensures everything is prepared for shipping to a lab.
“I try to make the testing experience as positive as possible for everyone,” Honeycutt said.
Nolan Dean Blair, a sophomore who is switching his major from sociology to a communications major as he is wishing to pursue a career in journalism, began working mitigation when the program launched. He said the job has helped polish skills in communication and customer support. He sees his growth as a communicator as perhaps the most significant part of the learning experience. Blair is responsible for registering each participate and is the first person they encounter each visit.
“Interacting with so many people gives me an opportunity to understand a wide range of people,” Blair said. “And this will help with my degree because I will gain better communicative skills.”
He appreciates the fact that while people doing the testing are not thrilled to have to do it, they understand the importance of the program and are nice to the student staff. “I gain inspiration from everyone who comes here.”
Taylor Reiber is a senior majoring in biochemistry. She began working the program in September. She appreciates being able to interact with many people at a time when there isn’t much opportunity to do so because of the dangers of COVID.
“With this job, I was still able to interact with many of the staff and student body. And I am super thankful for that opportunity,” Reiber said.
The experience further prepares her for a plan to pursue a career in medicine. “The most significant thing I am learning from this experience is the majority of people want to do the right thing and be tested to help and protect the population.” She’s also learned a lot about faculty and students in the process. “Many of these people not only help the students during the school year, but they also help many more with some of them being foster parents or providing homes for foreign exchange students.”
The experience has verified her choice of a future in medicine.
“I was already planning to go into the medical field. This experience has helped solidify that dream,” Reiber said.
Abigail Davis, a freshman elementary education major, began working with the mitigation project soon after it began. She serves as a backup worker in case another student worker is off. It’s been an “eye-opening experience. It is a weirdly intimate process,” she said, describing the testing that involves collecting saliva in a tube. “But it is also extremely humbling to see people from all walks of life participating in the tests,” Davis said. She is gaining valuable experience in the process, including “the importance of teamwork in disasters.”
Though her future isn’t in medicine, the testing experience during a pandemic “is something that I will keep with me forever.” It has also underscored with her the importance of doing the right thing to protect yourself and others. “Everyone needs to be doing their part to get us through this pandemic. I highly encourage everyone to wear their masks and to practice social distancing,” Davis said.
Griffin said the student team has truly stepped up to play important roles in the mitigation program.
“IU has chosen a smart path to protect the campus community by shining a light on one of the more elusive aspects of this virus – the people who have it, don’t know it and are spreading it. When we know who has it, we can limit or slow the spread. Using mitigation metrics, IU campuses are some of the safest places in the State of Indiana.”
Behind the Mask: Meet the students who greet you at Mitigation Testing
IU East students work more than 20 hours a week to oversee the COVID-19 Mitigation Testing. Meet the students who the campus community interacts with while completing a mitigation test in Whitewater Hall.
Nolan Blair is from Richmond, Indiana. He is a sophomore at IU East. He is currently a sociology major but will soon change his major to communication studies.
Regan Blinn is from Arcanum, Ohio. She is a freshman and plans to major in nursing.
Zachery Honeycutt is from Richmond, Indiana. He is a senior biochemistry major.
Taylor Reiber is from Winchester, Indiana. She is a senior majoring in biochemistry.
Abby Davis is a freshman from Centerville, Indiana. Davis is an elementary education major.
Terei Norman is a junior nursing major at IU East. Norman lives in Fountain City, Indiana. She is also a backup student worker for mitigation testing on campus.