State Press Play: Watts College student workers vaccinate Arizona

Event Management Watts College students are working at vaccination sites in Arizona to help stop the spread of COVID-19

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With Arizona making the push to vaccinate as many people as fast as possible, Watts College students are working to do their part. Join podcast reporter Jamie Montoya as she speaks to Steven Latino, vaccine site manager, at the State Farm Stadium, as well as Watts professor Erin Schneiderman and Watts student Bethany Easley on their experiences on site. 


Jamie Montoya:

The COVID-19 pandemic has ensued worldwide chaos with Arizona being a notorious hotspot for coronavirus cases. However, the release of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have sparked hope within the community, and vaccination sites have been working nonstop to get Arizonans vaccinated. Among those frontline workers are Arizona State University's own Watts College students working at State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium to stop the spread of COVID-19.

At State Farm Stadium, I interviewed ASU affiliate Steven Latino to understand ASU’s role at one of the nation's leading vaccination sites and was lucky enough to get a tour of the center.

Steven Latino:

It's hard to capture what it is that this place is without actually coming and seeing it.

Jamie Montoya:  

And it’s all a very emotional process. I feel like that's another thing that's hard to convey.

Steven Latino:

It is.

Okay, hi. So, I'm Steven Latino. I'm a Watts College graduate and I am the director of Research Compliance Services for Arizona State University Research Enterprise. 

So my role here is I'm the site manager for this site, and my role here is to keep operations flowing 24/7 with staff, volunteers, equipment and everything we need to keep this show going.

Jamie Montoya:

Do you know of the volunteers that you have working here, how many are student volunteers from ASU?

Steven Latino:

At my site, I have zero student volunteers, but at Phoenix Muni(cipal), we have a lot. 

This site specifically is, all the volunteers come from Blue Cross Blue Shield right now. But I have currently about 20, and we're growing as fast as I can get them onboarded, students from Watts College and Events Planning degrees coming out here and helping me as temporary paid employees to help me run this site.

Jamie Montoya:

So I imagine there would be a lot of students who would be jumping at that opportunity. How did you reach out to all of them?

Steven Latino:

So I actually, I got very lucky. A professor from the University reached out to us and said, "Hey, I teach an event planning program, there's not a whole lot of events going on, is there any way I can get my students involved in what you got going on?" And we said, "Please, and thank you, and bring them and when can they start?"

Jamie Montoya:

That professor was Professor Erin Schneiderman.

Erin Schneiderman:

My name is Erin Schneiderman, and I serve as a clinical assistant professor within the School of Community Resources and Development in Watts College here at ASU. And I oversee the special event management program.

Jamie Montoya:

So, you actually reached out and asked if your students could help. It is such a different time, and having students on the scene is a big deal, so tell me a little bit about that. What made you reach out?

Erin Schneiderman:

Absolutely. So typically, in a non-pandemic year, we really pride ourselves on giving students opportunities to get involved with event management. That’s really the backbone of our program. We want them out in the community, out in the field helping plan events and unfortunately, it just wasn't possible over this last year. So when I saw this massive event coming together, I knew that I had to involve my students.

Steven Latino:

Why not The Watts College providing the community solutions that drive Arizona back into normalcy? I mean, is that not what the Watts College is all about?

Jamie Montoya:

Could you tell me a little bit about the roles on their sites, specifically what different leadership positions these students have and what they're accomplishing?

Erin Schneiderman:

Absolutely. So out at State Farm Stadium there are three shifts, and at Phoenix Municipal there are two.

Typically what happens is a volunteer shows up and they're trained right on the spot. So they have to learn how to use our registration software or how to keep the hospitality area going, so it would be our students that help out with that training. They’re also helping with data verification. So when a patient comes into the site, they just to make sure that they're fitting into one of the categories to be vaccinated. They're also helping register for second doses. 

I have some students who are helping in the hospitality area. So they're the ones kind of keeping that area going; so just making sure that everybody is eating and drinking, and especially now that it's getting a little bit warmer, making sure people are staying hydrated. And then also helping out with the supplies, helping out with staffing. 

So a number of roles, but for the most part, I told my students just to be flexible. If you show up and you think you're doing one thing but you're asked to do something else, just to be super supportive and positive, and just tell me what to do and let me help. And those are the students that are asked to serve in more long-term roles as well, so they're really taking advantage of that.

Right now I have 75 students, mostly from our school, and they're not all event managers. Students started to get wind of it, and "Can I participate?" And at first, I didn't say no to anybody. I wanted anybody who wanted this opportunity to serve the community to get involved, but the interest was so vast right out of the gate that we did hit 75 students right away.

So I have 75 students working at both State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and I do have a waitlist of students who also want to get involved, which is very exciting as well.

Jamie Montoya:

How long is that waitlist?

Erin Schneiderman:

Not long, I think I have about 10 students on there right now. The problem is, I don't want to take slots away from other students, so eventually we'll work all students through and hopefully anybody who wants to help out, we can try to accommodate.

Jamie Montoya:

One of these student workers is Bethany Easley, a senior in Watts College majoring in nonprofit leadership and management with a certificate in special event management.

Bethany Easley:

I first received an email from Erin Schneiderman and she presented us with the opportunity to work at one of the COVID vaccination sites.

We get credit for our career field exploration hours, which is really awesome, but we also get a great opportunity to be a part in this historic event. We're a part of history and it's, it's really cool. It's very rewarding work.

We also got the opportunity to receive the vaccination as well, which was really cool.

Jamie Montoya:

Is there any kind of training that these students have to do before, or does Watts College kind of already set them up for that?

Bethany Easley:

Yes, so we all — all the ASU students that are a part of this did a one-hour training at State Farm Stadium, kind of learned the ropes and all the different positions.

Erin Schneiderman:

Really the training was a few weeks ago, and it was just to make sure students felt comfortable. They knew where to go, they knew where to park, they had to grab a safety vest, they would check out a radio, here's where you eat lunch, so I just want to make sure that they felt comfortable with their surroundings just so they didn't feel overwhelmed when they got there.

Bethany Easley:

But then we were kind of thrown right in the deep end, which was great. I mean, the only way you're going to learn this is through experience.

You kind of just dive right in. Cars start showing up and you start doing your work, and it's pretty nonstop until the end of your shift.

And we do have ASU representatives on site that are kind of people that we can go to and ask when we have questions, and they're kind of there to guide us and help us throughout the process.

Jamie Montoya:

Did you feel safe while you were working on the vaccination site before you got your vaccine?

Bethany Easley:

Yeah, I felt a hundred percent safe. 

So we do get our first dose of the vaccine after our very first shift, but everyone is masked the whole time, socially distant when possible, and there was never a moment where I felt like my health and my safety was going to be compromised when providing those services to others.

Jamie Montoya:

You have a lot of volunteers at the moment and they qualify to get a vaccine earlier than they may have in the regular phases.

Steven Latino:

Because, wouldn’t they be classified as a frontline worker in the defense of COVID-19 at this point? We do recommend that they come back. Of course, all of them have their regular day job they got to contend with as well, but everybody wants to see Arizona get back to normal, so we're all in it together and we're all out here fighting for it, so it’s great.

Jamie Montoya:

How do you account for the number of vaccines that maybe would have been given out in this early stage you're giving out to volunteers currently? How does that work?

Steven Latino:

We have a set aside. So the set aside is prebuilt into the system since it's such a small amount of doses for volunteers and staff. And when you think about, what's 300 doses in 8,000?

The appointments were made long before the thing, and then on that we still maintain a small set aside for people who fit in the 1a 1b category. The elderly in that population may have trouble interacting with the information systems that allow them to schedule appointments. They get here and they're super frustrated and we're able to get them an appointment here today; we have a small set aside.

But it's not very much anymore because the second dose appointments are starting to come back from when we first opened, and so between the first appointments and the second appointments, we have a varying level of leftover stuff. But we tend to treat, or get as many of the people in our target age group vaccinated as we possibly can.

Bethany Easley:

It's definitely emotionally demanding as well as physically demanding but like I said, it's super rewarding.

Especially right now, a lot of our patients that we have coming in are in that 1b population of 65 and older, so we're working directly with them. 

They're going through a lot of emotions when they come to get vaccinated; they're really anxious, and nervous and excited. You know, they've been locked up for almost a year now; they haven't seen their grandkids. 

So there's a lot going through their minds when they come to us, and our job is to make them feel at ease, make them feel welcome and get them vaccinated so they can feel safe going out.

Steven Latino:

When they started working for me, I didn't get a chance to go to sleep. I would take naps in my car, because I was here 24/7. And then I started getting these amazing students who just picked up the ball, they took charge and took command, and they're out here running the show, which allows me to sleep comfortably at night and get the rest I need to come back and execute the next day.

Erin Schneiderman:

It’s so much pride for Watts College, and especially our school, to know that our students are making a difference. 

I'm just so excited that my students have the opportunity to actually work at a live event site. 

You know, but I had students out there when they were conducting a tour with the president and vice president yesterday, which was so cool.

Steven Latino:

Since we started, I've been here, in this parking lot since Jan. 10; I haven't left really. And since we've been here, every day we've been open, we've broken records. We've broken our own records because we're the only ones setting records.

Most of the other PODs--point of delivery for vaccines so we call them POD vaccine -- the other PODSs in Maricopa County are doing about 500 doses a day. We do about 500 doses an hour. So nobody has the throughput we have, so we’re becoming the world model for how you do this the right way. We’ve had other nations reach out to us to ask us for how we do this. FEMA has been here studying how we do this, and we're training FEMA agents to be able to go to other states and roll this out.

And so because we've become the national model for how you can execute this, the president of the United States reached out and wanted to learn. He wanted to see for himself, so he made it a virtual tour. So they walked him around on Zoom through this area, showed him everything that's going on, and I'm assuming that he asked us what we need and we told him we need more vaccines because we can obviously handle more vehicles than vaccines that we currently get issued from the federal government.

We're hitting the numbers somewhere between seven and 9,000 doses a day, depending. Every day we grow a little bit. 

If you think about that, that's 700 needles in arms in an hour. That's ridiculous, a lot. 

Most doctor's appointments are 20 minutes and we're getting these things through in a heartbeat.

Jamie Montoya:

What’s the biggest challenge you've encountered while on the site?

Steven Latino:

That's a great question. Well the biggest challenge for me, and I mean I think this is true for anything that would be done like this, is you know, there's no way to plan for what we didn't know. And we didn't know a lot.

So every day was a learning experience, at least for the first two weeks.

Bethany Easley:

Things are changing all the time.

So there's lots of moving parts involved. So ASU actually hosts the event, but then we're also working with PRO EM, which is an event company, we're working with DEMA; there's all sorts of moving parts that are onsite that there's so many people to answer to, and the first week or so we had some kinks we were working out, but everything is as smooth as it can be.

With an event this big, things are kind of always in limbo. So every day we're changing little things here and there.

Steven Latino:

Every day we came and it was like, oh let's put these cones over here like this. No, that didn't work. Let's put these cones this way. All right, well maybe let's just put them back the way they were. So, we didn't build this serpentine process the first try. It took us a few iterations to get it right. And now it's to the point where we took a collective breath.

We're at one month in, and for the first time, we really haven't made any significant changes to the site or how we're doing anything. Now it's just making sure that everybody gets trained every time, the exact same way and the continuity is rolling through.

Erin Schneiderman:

It's really operating like a well-oiled machine out there, so it's really nice to see the efficiency.

Steven Latino:

At some point I will leave this site, it'll be running fluidly all by itself, and I'll go help set up next the next site. And then I'll bring a couple of students with me, and we'll jump from site to site setting them up across the United States, or hopefully the United States. I assume that's why the president called us today, right?

ASU is kind of in this hybrid, online in-person learning environment because of COVID. So, we're not going to stop at this site; we're not going to stop at this county. We have 14 other counties we need to get sites running in, right? Well, I'm assuming that there's probably some ASU students who, when we went to more of a remote learning environment, checked out of their dorm rooms, and went home and they've been living at home, that maybe need a job for a few weeks, to come hang out and need some career experience.

So I look forward to being able to engage through ASU to get more ASU students, even students who are online and distance learning, involved in this program so that we can keep leapfrogging forward. Especially so the people who are out there don't have to come all the way out here to us to get it.

Erin Schneiderman:

If I can offer an opportunity and students are willing to take it, I'm absolutely open to having them serve wherever needed.

They're really getting to take part in what we think is really history and a very impactful moment for our state. It's just very exciting that they're involved and sending me this really positive feedback and stories of hope that we've been kind of waiting for for a very long time to be in front of us.

Steven Latino:

Look at this event, right? Look at this massive event. What's planning a wedding after running something like this, you know? What's a Superbowl after an event like this, right? I love the fact that I get to give back to my school in this meaningful way. You don't want to say they came here just for the resume bullet, but the resume-building that they're going to do here on this site is phenomenal. 

How many 22-year-old college students are running a site that has 300 volunteers, 48 generators, 75 iPads running patient-protected data 24/7?

Bethany Easley:

It's super exciting. Like I said, we're a part of history, and not only is it rewarding work, but it's actually really enjoyable. I've enjoyed myself. I'm going to continue to do it even after I gain all these hours for credit because I'm enjoying it so much.

It's also personally rewarding, especially if you know someone who's been affected by COVID. My mom is immunocompromised, so I've been socially distant this whole entire year. When this opportunity came up that I can get vaccinated to feel like I'm doing my part to protect the people around me, was also really special.

Erin Schneiderman:

We operate on a problem-solution mindset.

Steven Latino:

Our motto is to be the change you wish to see in the world, and this is the change I wish to see in the world.

Speaker:

It’s going to be amazing because they're going to break down in tears and say, because of you, I get to go see my grandchildren in a couple of weeks, or because of you I get to go back into the classroom and teach.

So once again, you're making history.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart again, for what you all are about to do today.

Thank you.

Jamie Montoya:

For The State Press, I'm Jamie Montoya.


Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Reach the reporter at jlmonto5@asu.edu or follow @jamielmontoya on Twitter.

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