The establishment of Siena College’s Student Senate COVID Safety and Vaccine Committee came with one goal: keep the Siena community alive throughout the pandemic.
As co-chair of the novel committee developed in response to the novel virus, Annamaria Walden focused on two goals: a safe and healthy campus environment, and vaccine promotion.
A 2018 graduate of Lancaster Catholic High School, Walden worked to make those goals a reality this semester at the upstate New York campus where she is a pre-med major.
“I joined the Student Senate’s COVID committee in January to help with messaging and education to encourage my peers to get the vaccine,” Walden said. “This semester, President (Chris) Gibson issued a vaccine challenge to reach 70 percent vaccination on campus” to allow for more social gatherings and less mask-wearing.
The committee’s efforts proved successful, with more than 50 percent of the student population receiving their inoculations within three weeks of the shots being offered to them. Siena College is home to approximately 2,400 students.
Reaching the goal took some effort on the college’s part, and the COVID Safety and Vaccine Committee stepped up to help. The first endeavor was a campus-wide survey in March to determine student attitudes about the vaccine. Half the student population responded, and the results illustrated that two-thirds were willing to get vaccinated, 20 percent were unsure, and 15 percent had already received it.
In an effort to address those who were unsure about the vaccine, Walden and her committee co-chair worked with Siena’s Health Promotion Office to deliver messaging for a social media campaign. They also executed a town hall meeting for students to ask questions of President Gibson and Dr. Ray Walsh, the director of Siena’s Joint Medical Program.
By the time the campus offered its first Pfizer vaccine clinic to students, 500 signed up to fill the clinic to capacity and ultimately respond to the vaccination challenge.
The goal of the effort was to take care of the community, said Walden, a member of St. John Neumann Parish in Lancaster. “When I was touring colleges, I knew I wanted to be in the Albany area. Siena stood out because it had the same community feel that I had at Lancaster Catholic. I knew I was going into an environment where I would thrive and where the atmosphere was about building people up,” she said.
She said listening and showing empathy were especially critical in sharing vaccination messages with students who were unsure or against receiving it – especially since social distancing, mask-wearing and vaccines can become a political hot button.
“We had an additional event that targeted students who were still hesitant about the vaccine, and students who had family members still unsure about side effects. We offered pointers on how to listen and respond with empathy, and tidbits of scientific information on the vaccine,” she said. “Our efforts were about genuinely listening to people’s concerns and responding with understanding, regardless of their viewpoint.”
Walden is a rising senior at Siena, where she is part of a combined degree program that will take her to Albany Medical College for four years. She aspires to be a primary care provider.
“I have Lancaster Catholic to thank for so much,” she said of her college success.
“I learned leadership skills, professionalism. I have so much respect and admiration for the faculty and staff at Lancaster Catholic. Academically, I capitalized on my time in the sciences there, taking two sciences courses senior year, and five by the time I graduated. My education gave me the skills to enter a combined med program. I feel like I am thriving,” she said.
“On the spiritual level, the four years of Catholic education – especially junior year Morality – taught me what I personally think is the great lesson, to love God and to love our neighbors,” Walden said. “At Siena, I’ve been able to fuse my passion for science, my ability to be a leader and my genuine concern for others into what I do now. Lancaster Catholic helped me fashion and grow into those three principles, and now I get to perform them.”
(Photos courtesy of Siena College.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness