An idea popped into Erin Schneiderman’s mind as the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine entered her arm during an early-morning appointment in the State Farm Stadium parking lot.
Was there some way her special event management students could be part of this process, she wondered?
The answer was yes.
Schneiderman is an Arizona State University clinical assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. She said she realized those arena lots presented an opportunity for her students to put their classroom training to work at large events in real life.
Fortunately for her students and the public they serve, she wasn’t the only one who liked the idea. Schneiderman told David Thomas, CEO of ASU Research Enterprise, about her dozens of students and the invaluable experience they would receive working at vaccination sites.
“And he was so gracious. He said yes,” Schneiderman said.
As a result, her students have worked more than 10,500 hours helping Arizonans get their own shots, and their efforts continue to benefit thousands as the inoculations have moved indoors for the summer.
Throughout the spring, students have been making the most of the opportunity to work for ASU, with pay, at sites hosting testing and vaccinations. At first they staffed State Farm Stadium in Glendale and Phoenix Municipal Stadium on the Phoenix-Tempe border. As hot-weather concerns have relocated vaccinations indoors, the students continue similar work inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Desert Financial Arena on ASU’s Tempe campus and the Dexcom regional distribution center in Mesa.
Students undertake wide range of event-related duties
Their duties range from checking in vaccine-seekers to directing parking lot traffic, along with a wide range of other event-related responsibilities, including training dozens of volunteers.
Students trained over two days in late January. Help was needed at all levels: checking IDs, hospitality, supply management, traffic, observing those vaccinated before they were allowed to exit – tasks requiring skills event management students learn and know.
The students, many of whom are members of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Student Association, were able to do all those things, as well as apply another vital skill involved in putting on a big-time gathering: how to be flexible.
“It was a fluid situation. You may sign up to do one thing but when you show up there might be another thing for which there’s a greater need,” Schneiderman said. “They just learned to embrace it.”
Thomas said the process also involves students from other university units such as the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Nursing students with part-time jobs at Valley hospitals took on roles as medical assistants during the parking-lot vaccinations.
More than 80 students in event management were joined by about 40 from the Watts College-based Public Service Academy in working the stadiums as of mid-March.
Learning logistics and operations
ASURE Assistant Director Breanna Carpenter, who had been supervising efforts at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and State Farm Stadium, said the students’ participation worked well.
“For the events students it’s really about logistics and operations, which is what events are,” said Carpenter, a Watts College alumna who is its former events coordinator.
“All the little details like making sure volunteers use the sign-in sheet, that everyone has a volunteer badge and so on, they’re getting exposure to how to run large-scale events and what they look like,” she said.
Carpenter said another benefit for students is getting experience working with public agencies involved in the vaccinations, such as the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, as well as nonprofit entities involved in the effort.
“They are really understanding in real life how different sectors come together to make a difference. It’s perfect for our college,” Carpenter said.
Steven Latino, a Watts College alumnus who is ASU Research Enterprise's director of research compliance services and who has worked at the State Farm Stadium site, said the event management students are doing amazing work.
“They are rock stars. They take the opportunities,” Latino said. “They are site leaders, making sure there are enough supplies, items are charged and plugged in, all as 20-year-old, 21-year-old college students hoping to do this as a career.”
Latino said the students are correctly seeing their work at the stadiums as offering them more insight than an internship or a minimum wage job might.
“I’ve seen them grow so substantially as leaders,” Latino said. “By the third day, they’re like, here’s the problem and here’s how I solved it. It’s a whole other level of leadership you can’t get on campus. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow talents you didn’t know you had and leverage your career into the future.”
That’s exactly how sophomore Luis Pintor Zavaleta sees what he’s doing and learning. The management and tourism business major and member of the Tourism Student Association said he is connecting his classroom learning with real-life situations as well as improving his public speaking skills.
It has also provided him with treasured memories.
“A special moment I have working at the site is seeing positive expressions (on patients’ faces). From registering them for their first vaccine, it’s an emotional moment for them and it’s a great feeling to know we are making this happen,” Pintor Zavaleta said. “A very special moment I have is to see people from my culture and ethnic background registering for their first or second dose and often needing to translate. This is a special moment in history and we are being part of it.”
Katie Schaffer, a junior majoring in sustainable tourism with a certificate in special events, had been working at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. She said the many expressions of thanks from people she’s helping has made rising at 5 a.m. on days she’s scheduled to work worthwhile.
“Working the COVID vaccination event has confirmed that wherever my career takes me, I want events to be part of it. I love working at the site because you can see in the people’s faces how glad they are to be here,” Schaffer said. “I feel like I have really gotten a chance to take on a leadership role through being a zone lead and training the volunteers who are typically new every day. What is better is that it has given me a new sort of confidence I did not possess before when it comes to leadership.”
Raquel Bigman, a junior tourism development and management/meetings and events major, said the experience has taught her the importance of communication.
“You constantly have to be on top of your game, making sure you are updated on new information and then ensuring your team is aware of those changes to assure a smooth transition throughout the entire process,” Bigman said. “Every day is a special moment. We get to be part of history! I appreciate everyone who comes by and thanks us for what we are doing.”
“They are working hard and proving themselves as dedicated event professionals,” Schneiderman said. “This is a statewide, multiagency effort and they are certainly adding to the positive impact that ASU is bringing to the table.”
The students’ participation fulfills three of Watts College’s five major aspirations:
- Community through responsible innovation, stewardship of public goods and fostering trust in public institutions.
- Equity through furthering accessibility and inclusion; and recovery and healing.
- Potential through providing experiences in lifelong learning and in leadership and management.