HealthIT education

Western Carolina University – Catamounts Care Ambassadors part of team recognized as force for beating the pandemic

The Catamounts Care Ambassadors, a student-led and campus supported program to build
awareness of pandemic protocols, in collaboration with Student Health Ambassadors
from five other higher education institutions have been recognized for innovation
in programing to stop the spread of COVID-19 within the region and on respective campuses
including Western Carolina University. 

The team earned second place from the National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic
Communities in a recent competition and will be presented an award and gift cards
during a virtual summit April 21-22. The consortium connects health and wellness professionals
from academic institutions in pursuit of healthier campuses by sharing best practices
and to set national standards.

“Being a Catamounts Care Ambassador has taught me how to be a better leader in our
community,” said WCU student Ainsley McNeill. “I have learned firsthand how to work
together to make a positive influence on each other and to help shape a culture of

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During the pandemic, WCU has worked alongside other regional institutions of higher
learning in the region (University of North Carolina Asheville, Mars Hill University, Brevard
College, Warren Wilson College and Montreat College) and the Mountain Area Health
Education Center of Asheville to demonstrate wellness programs for the safety of students,
faculty, visitors and staff.

“The collaborative approach represented by these five campuses and MAHEC has had a
major impact on slowing and managing the spread of COVID-19 on each of the respective
campuses,” said Lane Perry, executive director of WCU’s Center for Community Engagement
and Service Learning. “The partnership strengthened each of the individual campuses’
efforts and inspired creativity, innovation and teamwork in unprecedented ways.”

Catamounts Care Ambassadors distributed stickers to recognize positive behavior, such
as wearing face coverings, exercising proper physical distancing and other campus

“This ambassador initiative has gained such momentum in large part from the partnerships
between all six institutions,” said Kol Gold-Leighton, the Back to College Health Ambassador project coordinator at MAHEC. “With leadership, action and support at the administrative and student lead levels,
this project has propelled innovation and infused cross-institutional collaboration
into the fibers of how students tackle COVID-19 on their campus.”

Students also developed social media and other communications to keep fellow students
informed, including setting an example and positively reinforcing the Catamounts Care

“Working with the students at WCU and the other universities to develop unique, innovative
and impactful programming has been such a pleasure,” said Brian Garland, an adviser
to the Catamounts Care program. “Their efforts have been a pivotal force in slowing
the spread of COVID-19 across our campus and WNC.”

Amy Joy Lanou, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness
at UNC Asheville credits cooperation and strength of communication. “This collaboration
has supported a rapid and successful COVID-19 mitigation strategy with infection rates
lower than regional or statewide ones while students continue living and learning
on their campuses,” said Lanou, also a UNCA professor. “Student-driven peer education
and support for are the key to our success.”

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