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All University Park employees, graduate and undergraduate students supported on wage payroll, and students supported on graduate assistantships must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Dec. 8, per federal vaccine mandate. Read more >>

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Diverse fields of study that share one
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Health Ambassadors; Sydney Statler with Nittany Lion Statue

Introducing Sydney Statler, HHD Health Ambassador

In retrospect, Sydney Statler feels like she was destined to become a Penn Stater. Her parents met at University Park as students and went on to join Sydney’s grandfather, a few of her aunts, and all of her uncles as proud alums. All told, almost ten family members have matriculated through Penn State. So when she says she “bleeds blue and white,” she’s got the pedigree to back it up. Sydney, now a senior majoring in Biobehavioral Health, was born in Hookstown, Pennsylvania, a small borough in Beaver County with 147 residents, but when she relocated to Happy Valley for college, the change of scenery didn’t faze her. In fact, she fell in love with the rhythms of campus life, the bustle of the downtown businesses, and, most of all, Nittany Lion football. The postponed season has been a disappointment to her and the whole community, but she finds a silver lining in the fact that the suspension of the season allowed her to devote herself more fully to the job of health ambassador and peer educator during the COVID-19 pandemic. We caught up with Sydney to hear about the highlights of her journey as an ambassador.

How did you end up becoming a health ambassador?

I was already a volunteer for HealthWorks, which is a peer health promotion outreach program at Penn State. You train for a full semester, and then you take that knowledge out into the community. We conduct a whole series of workshops on everything from stress to the importance of sleep, safe sex, and good nutrition. I’ve also worked as an HIV counselor on campus through HealthWorks. I’d visited Kenya in the summer of 2019 to serve in a medical internship at a hospital, and that experience included a rotation in the HIV clinic. It opened my eyes to how difficult—and how important—this kind of work is, so when I returned to Penn State in the fall, I did the training. These conversations are daunting, but I’m so grateful to have learned how to actively listen, without judgment, in the process of serving the health needs of a community. So when the pandemic struck and the opportunity opened for me to become a health ambassador and peer educator, I jumped at it.

What kinds of experiences have you had so far as an ambassador?

Well, everyone in the ambassador program has a passion for health, even if that’s not their academic focus. I’m working alongside engineers and IST majors, and it’s been fantastic how people with diverse interests have pulled together. I’m a leader in the program, so I oversee a broad network of “pods.” Each pod has about 30 students in it, who monitor and support each other’s health habits. When I’m on a shift, I walk the entire campus to make sure every pod is equipped with what they need to observe the guidelines. And the good news is that the vast majority of my peers are wearing masks and social distancing—and they’re proud to be representing Penn State in the best light. For the few that aren’t, if you approach them with the right attitude and a tone of encouragement, they almost always take our reminder in stride and pull out a mask. Once in a blue moon—and this is very rare—I’ve run into someone who won’t listen and doesn’t want to talk. But we’re there to promote good practices, not police behavior. We give them information and help to educate. We’re not there to write down names or turn anyone in. And I think the fact that we’re helping our peers rather than punishing non-compliant practices makes us more successful in the end.

Are you personally afraid of contracting COVID-19?

No, I would say that I’m not afraid, and really, the best way to reduce anxiety is just to take the recommended precautions—washing your hands, wearing a mask, staying six-feet apart, and staying home if you feel unwell. Look, I don’t enjoy wearing a mask when it’s 90 degrees out, but it’s not about us, it’s about protecting others. No one wants to be the one that spreads this virus to someone who is immunocompromised or vulnerable, and no one wants to be the reason that campus gets closed down for the rest of the semester. In the end, we all know that we’re in this together, and it makes me proud to be part of a community that is looking out for each other.