International publication features FHSU efforts to ‘Get Smart About COVID-19’

Published 03/16/2021

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03/16/2021 dgo local, state

HAYS, Kan. – Inspired by the success of a social entrepreneurship initiative by Fort Hays State University students, an international online journal asked FHSU to submit an article for publication on the initiative.

Dr. Jane Talkington and Dr. Kevin Amidon co-authored the article “Get Smart About COVID-19,” which was published in the March 2021 issue of Solutions. Talkington is interim director of Center for Entrepreneurship in the Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship (RCOBE) and assistant professor of management. Amidon is the director of the Honors College and an associate professor of modern languages. Also contributing to the article were Ronald Storrer, a graduate assistant in FHSU’s Department of Management, and Dr. Nizam S. Najd with Emporia State University’s Department of Business Administration.

Last fall, Talkington sent the Solutions editor – a former colleague of hers – a flyer for contact tracing workshops she is hosting through FHSU’s Management Development Center and included information about the student initiative.

The article describes the pilot program where FHSU students in the Dane G. Hansen Scholarship Hall and the Honors College learn ways to apply safety measures from COVID-19 to their lifestyles. Talkington and Amidon used a curriculum developed by Johns Hopkins University, and at the time Solutions asked for FHSU’s article submission, it was the only university in the country known to be using the curriculum from the private research university.

Talkington, who became certified in contact tracing for COVID-19 last spring, thought of the initiative as a way of keeping students safe but engaged at the same time. Several FHSU students are part of both the Honors College and the Hansen Hall entrepreneurship community, so Talkington and Amidon decided to combine efforts for teaching students to take care of themselves while watching out for everyone’s welfare at the same time.

“We thought that peer-to-peer education would be the most effective way to teach students about COVID, using them as advocates for staying safe,” Talkington said.

The curriculum in the six-hour program focuses on the science of COVID-19 science and also includes the principles of contact tracing.

Following the course, the students were charged with building networks – particularly in rural western Kansas – to help improve the well-being of themselves, fellow students, and their families. Students completing the six-hour program are eligible for consideration for one of three $1,000 scholarships that will be awarded this spring. A committee will review the applicants, who must share the impact this project has had on their lifestyle and their greater community.

As a graduate assistant, Storrer assists Talkington with projects through the RCOBE Center for Entrepreneurship, and he lives in Hansen Hall, which houses students devoted to entrepreneurial learning objectives.

A native of Paraguay, Storrer said he knew that he wouldn’t be able to work as a contact tracer (international students cannot work off campus because of their VISA status). Nonetheless, he chose to take the John Hopkins course anyway.

“I wanted to learn more about COVID-19, based on science,” Storrer said. “There is a lot of information out there, but you don’t know what to believe. With the Johns Hopkins curriculum, you know everything you are learning is true.”

Storrer said some of the most notable lessons he learned were the importance of respecting the 6-foot distance between people, wearing masks, and getting tested even if you don’t display any symptoms.

Haley Yancey, a junior management major from Liberal, who also lives in Hansen Hall, was impressed with the course.

“I didn’t realize how much I needed to know about COVID-19 safety,” she said. “This course opened my eyes, especially seeing how many people that one person with COVID-19 can infect if they come in contact with them.”

Both Talkington and Amidon are pleased with the results of the initiative to date.

“We’re always asking students to link their education with the careers are seeking, and this is a solution to a real-world problem,” Amidon said. “We saw this as a learning opportunity and to find a way for students to learn new kinds of campus and community leadership while fulfilling the mission of the institution and the student groups we are charged with.”

Talkington agreed, stating: “I read the other day that learning begins at the edge of discomfort, and our students are experiencing a lot of resilience through this project. I’ve always believed in activism, and this is teaching students how to be active in their community.”