In the midst of the country’s largest surge in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, some Cal Poly students have found themselves on the front lines of the university’s pandemic response.
At the beginning of winter quarter, Cal Poly created the position of Isolation Assistant (IA) to better address the growing number of students being exposed to COVID-19. These positions, all held by students, provide operational and emotional support for those in isolation or quarantine spaces in University Housing.
“We wanted to support our residents in isolation with virtual check-ins and programming during their stays,” Nona Matthews, University Housing Assistant Director for Outreach said. “The position was created and filled by residents interested in supporting their peers in this way.”
IAs are similar in many aspects to the more traditional role of a Resident Advisor. The main difference is that an IA’s residents change every 10 to 14 days and may be scattered across different housing communities on campus. IA positions have also been designed to be contactless to ensure safety.
Being an IA comes with a unique set of challenges. With a record number of students being housed on campus during the pandemic, the coordination of moving residents into isolation can at times be overwhelming.
“There are certain days where you can get a call concerning the pickup of the student’s laundry, whereas there are other days we need to handle several move-ins,” chemistry junior and IA Julia Ochoa Barajas said.
Despite the potentially stressful nature of the job, IAs have the full support of University Housing staff and all campus health resources.
“I have felt very supported throughout this entire experience,” Ochoa Barajas said. “I have a great team of IAs that I can go to and ask for help when I need it. [Housing Isolation Coordinators] have also been really encouraging and understanding during these weird times.”
Though the position has not been around for very long, Ochoa Barajas said she feels that her job has had a positive impact on the campus community.
“When making phone calls, and checking in on the students in isolation, I have been able to speak to certain students who have clearly needed someone to talk to,” Ochoa Barajas said. “I can imagine being in isolation to be a lonely and boring experience, so we want to make sure that these students feel included in campus life, as well as know that they are being thought of.”