Wayland Receives COVID Education Grant

PLAINVIEW – Wayland Baptist University is one of 120 colleges and universities that recently received a grant to participate in COVID vaccine education. Funded by the Interfaith Youth Core, the Faith in the Vaccine initiative is meant to address the myths surrounding the vaccine and to educate those communities that have been hesitant to embrace it.

The Faith in the Vaccine program was developed when it became apparent that certain subsets of the population, including African American, Native American and Latino/a populations, are likely to have limited access to and less trust in the vaccine. Politically and religiously conservative white communities also exhibit less trust in the vaccine. Through the IFYC program, college and university student ambassadors will focus educational efforts on those communities to which they have personal ties.

Schools were required to apply for the grant program, answering questions about how they would approach educating the communities they serve. Each school selected to participate was allowed to choose 20 students to be Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors. Each student receives a $1,500 stipend for the work they will do promoting education about the COVID vaccine. The grant is meant to fund projects and work completed between June and December 2021.

Dr. Justin Lawrence, associate dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences, applied for the grant and will serve as the faculty advisor to the group. Current Wayland students and recent graduates were encouraged to apply to the program. Lawrence then reviewed the applications, selecting 20 students with a variety of social, economic and cultural backgrounds, based on their responses to the application questions. Students have already completed training and are working to develop their education plan.

“Basically, our students are getting the opportunity to educate others about the vaccine,” Lawrence said. “We are not forcing anybody to get the vaccine. We are not attacking you or antagonizing you. We’re just educating you.”

Lawrence said the students participated in a five-hour training session in which they were taught how to answer difficult questions and interact with individuals who oppose the vaccine, or challenge them on their beliefs. Lessons, he said, that will benefit them throughout their careers.

“They are learning how to work in teams and how to help people,” Lawrence said. “This is a project they can talk about and it may help them get jobs down the road because of the skillset they are learning, and the leadership opportunities.”

Lawrence said the group will meet every other week to develop materials and messaging. The work will focus on those communities in which the students are connected. Once some of the students return to campus in the fall, their work will shift to the communities around campus. Recent graduates and students at WBU’s external campuses will continue to work at their location.

Initial plans for the group are focusing on spreading the word through social media and YouTube. They will also visit community non-profit organizations and churches where they can present their information, and will be developing educational pieces such as flyers and brochures that can be handed out to individuals.

Lawrence said the primary goal is to simply make a difference.

“This is about service,” he said. “Students are able to get out there and serve their community and maybe they can articulate something in a way that somebody else couldn’t. Sometimes people need to hear it from somebody else, and that is what we will be doing.”

For more information or to have the ambassadors speak to your organization, contact Dr. Lawrence at lawrencej@wbu.edu.