Konul Karimova

A graduate assistant in Washington State University’s Cougar Health Services has joined a national team seeking to engage college students in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Konul Karimova, a prevention science doctoral student in the Department of Human Development, is working virtually with college health professionals and graduate students across the country to recommend best practices for peer health education around COVID-19.

The goal of the project is to develop a digital toolkit that will empower students to take active roles in keeping the virus from spreading in their communities and protecting themselves from contracting it.

The project is part of the Higher Education COVID-19 Community of Practice initiative led by the American College Health Association (ACHA) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control.

Karimova’s work supports WSU’s recent partnership with the White House and its COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge. To help the White House reach its goal of getting as many U.S. adults vaccinated as possible, WSU is committed to developing strategies to educate students, faculty, and staff about the vaccines and encourage them to get vaccinated.

Engaging their peers

Karimova said the toolkit, to be completed next month, will help universities establish public health student ambassadors and train them to educate their peers on COVID-19 mitigation practices. It will contain a guide to help ambassadors plan workshops, tips for engaging students on this topic, and social media tools such as graphics.

When it comes to promoting COVID protocols, Karimova said students are often more likely to listen to and believe information when it is presented by their peers. It is why WSU involved students in helping to create and share information as part of the #CougsCancelCOVID campaign launched last fall.

“Sometimes students have misperceptions that their peers are not following the university’s COVID guidelines,” she said. “For them to hear from a fellow student that this is not always the case reinforces the messages they hear from professional staff.”

Karimova has experience engaging students around COVID-19 guidelines. When WSU began implementing health protocols last year to mitigate the spread of the virus, she collaborated with WSU’s Center for Community Standards to talk with students who violated the university’s mask wearing and social distancing policies.

She found these students were open to talking about how their actions put themselves and others in the community at risk, as well as steps they could take to help prevent the spread of the virus on campus and in the community.

Karimova said her positive interactions with students inspired her to apply to become a member of the national working group and she is excited for the opportunity to contribute to such an important project for higher education.

Leading community action

CHS Director of Health Promotion Paula Adams said it is not uncommon for people living and studying in a rural town like Pullman, Wash., to feel removed from things happening across the country. Karimova’s role in this initiative not only gives CHS an opportunity to provide input on how universities can address the challenges posed by COVID-19, it also gives WSU a front-row seat to learning how other universities are responding to those challenges.

“We talk about teaching our students how to be global citizens,” Adams said. “This is a great example of how students can lead community action.”

Karimova is looking forward to engaging more WSU students around this topic in the fall and is eager for universities to see the toolkit she and her team are developing.

“One thing I learned from my involvement in this working group is that all universities are learning as they go through the pandemic and are making revisions to their COVID policies as situations change,” Karimova said. “It is a relief to know that we are all in the same boat, we are in this together, and we can learn from each other.”