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USF Heroes project highlights students, staff giving back during pandemic

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Posted at 4:18 PM, May 14, 2020

TAMPA, Fla.—When you think of a hero during the COVID-19 crisis, images of healthcare workers and first responders may jump to mind. The University of South Florida started a new campaign to highlight its students, faculty, and staff who are making an impact in different ways.

It’s called the USF Heroes project.

“During the COVID-19 challenge, it’s important for the University of South Florida to maintain a strong sense of community, even if we’re physically distancing from each other,” said USF President Steven Currall. “A countless number of our students, faculty, staff and alumni have stepped up to help in many different ways during these unprecedented times, and we want to show our appreciation.”

The university has named more than a dozen heroes so far. Some are in healthcare, like medical students Sam Harris and Josh Mizels. Mizels helps out with the COCO Clinic, an interprofessional telehealth clinic made possible through the work of USF faculty, residents, students, and volunteers.

“We monitor COVID positive patients while they’re at home,” said Mizels. “Some of them have home vital sign monitoring, depending on how sick or not sick they are, we follow up with them daily or maybe once a week.”

Harris, also a Morsani College of Medicine student, started a mask drive to distribute back to high-risk patients and their families, like the people they work with at Tampa Bay Street Medicine and the Refugee Clinic.

“This is kind of already something we were doing, and I feel like it’s more my duty than going above and beyond. It’s what I’ve always done, and we just continue to do it,” said Harris.

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Meredith Mechanik was also honored as a USF Hero. She’s a student program coordinator in the Compass office at USF St. Petersburg. Mechanik started the College Pen Pal program in March to connect students during the crisis. The program has grown to more than 1,600 students from 100 universities in the U.S. and abroad.

“Just looking at your own corner of the world, whatever that may be and thinking through, what is it that we need, what are we missing right now, and start there,” said Mechanik. “I don’t think it has to be some big sweeping life-changing thing to make a difference in somebody’s life.”

Jessica Perez Maqueda was named a hero for initiating a mask drive. The USF Sarasota-Manatee student enlisted the help of friends and family to collect 1,000 masks for healthcare workers at Manatee Memorial Hospital, which are set to be delivered Friday.

“I don’t feel like a hero,” said Perez Maqueda. “I feel like in moments like this, it doesn’t have to be a pandemic, I feel it’s important to have leadership in situations, and it takes one person, it’s the power of one, right. One person to say, can we try this?”

For a list of the USF Heroes and their contributions during the COVID-19 crisis, click here.