Students have big ideas at UM-Flint—and find the support to turn those ideas into reality.
Freshman Biology major Christina El Zarka's big idea came after a conversation with friends. Many of them weren't planning on being vaccinated for COVID-19. She found that surprising (and upsetting), so she created an Instagram poll to survey more people in her network about their vaccination plans. The results mirrored her first conversation: 44% of the 400 respondents didn't intend to receive a vaccination either. This resistance toward the COVID-19 vaccine and the misinformation prevalent among her peer group motivated Christina to create Save Summer 2021, a viral video and social media movement promoting coronavirus vaccinations among young people.
"I know a lot of people my age are sick and tired of being at home. We want to have in-person classes. We want to go out and go to concerts," Christina says. She saw the existing messaging around the vaccine not resonating strongly with her demographic and took a new approach. This campaign approaches vaccines from a new angle, highlighting the rewards that can come from being vaccinated. "You want to get out of the house and go to a party? Let's get vaccinated," she says.
Despite being a Biology major with plans on medical school, Christina is part of UM-Flint's Entrepreneurs Society, an award-winning group that fosters innovative business thinking in students and throughout the community. The group is advised by Dr. Michael Witt, who holds JD (law) and Doctor of Pharmacy degrees in addition to being a School of Management faculty member.
Witt's broad expertise has been invaluable to Christina, both in the Save Summer 2021 initiative and planning for her future as a business-minded health professional. Christina considers him a valuable mentor, and Witt sees mentoring students as among the most rewarding things he can do as an educator.
"Learning to evaluate critically, to think deeply and objectively, to read broadly and carefully, and to be open and introspective, are all hallmarks of a proper education," Witt says. "It is deeply rewarding to be able to work with such fine students as are here at our University and makes life worthwhile."
Innovative tactics, meaningful partnerships
Christina's viral campaign utilizes social media influencers to amplify her public health message. Personalities like @smilelikechad, a US Air Force dentist with more than 20,000 Instagram followers, have reposted the video. College students from across the country are also taking part in the "Shoot Your Shot" challenge, where they post their perspectives on getting the vaccine and nominate others to do the same.
The campaign offers more than influencers and social media challenges, however. The Save Summer 2021 facts page draws directly from the CDC and includes videos featuring Dr. Fauci debunking vaccine conspiracies. This commitment to sharing facts-based information has earned the campaign endorsements from the Genesee County Health Commission (the video is featured on their coronavirus information page). Christina is currently working on partnerships with music festivals like Lolapalooza, in hopes that her message can be shared during this summer's virtual event.
This is UM-Flint
Christina's interdisciplinary approach to tackling this global challenge exemplifies the mindset a UM-Flint education instills in students, according to College of Arts & Sciences Dean Susan Gano-Phillips.
"This campaign is exceptional because it draws from such a vast array of disciplines—natural sciences, technology, social sciences like psychology—all of which are offered through our general education program. Christina's work with Save Summer 2021 embodies the mission of CAS: to effect positive change both locally and globally."
Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing & Digital Strategies.