In the middle of the global pandemic, with COVID cases rising and falling in an unpredictable pattern around campus, Nikki Ramirez ’21 & ’23 rose to the challenge as an official contact tracer for the College. A calm voice in the seas of uncertainty, Ramirez and a cohort of eight other students, became important lifelines for their classmates.
“When I heard about the opportunity here, about students being able to volunteer, I jumped right on it,” Ramirez said. “There was a script we had to follow making sure we were saying the correct things. We were a support system for students, because it’s a scary thing getting COVID.”
Throughout the Spring 2021 semester, Ramirez disseminated vital information to her peers, both those who were testing positive for COVID and their close contacts, helping to curb the spread of the virus at the College. “I like helping the campus and I’m really passionate about getting into a career in health care, so I thought it would be a great experience,” she said. “I was kind of scared at first, but I got the hang of it. I got close with a couple of the other contact tracers on my shift too, so it made things a lot smoother, more effective, and faster, contacting students right away.”
Ramirez was involved in the process from start to finish. Every Monday, she would help students with pooled saliva testing, and by the end of the week, when the results arrived from Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, she would be on the phone relaying information about next steps for either quarantine or isolation. At the beginning of this semester, Ramirez was asked to continue her efforts as a contact tracer, helping to alleviate the workload of the nurses in Student Health Services. She continued her work with Tracey Harcourt, director of Student Health Services at the College, who has been leading the fight.
“Tracey has been amazing! I’ve been inspired by her. Working with her, Caroline, Bridget, and the other nurses has been awesome. I’ve always admired health care workers in general, so I love assisting them,” she said.
Ramirez, a double major in psychology and business administration at SUNY Potsdam from Southern California, has also made an impact in her community back home. At the end of the Fall 2020 semester, she volunteered with Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), a crisis response organization founded by actor Sean Penn that offers free COVID testing and vaccination clinics throughout Los Angeles. Navigating the traffic-laden arterials from her home in West Covina to Lincoln Park in Los Angeles, Ramirez spent her days interacting with community members as they arrived for their tests and vaccines.
“They had testing sites all over L.A. County, for underserved communities with minorities. I did that for the whole winter break, and I loved it,” Ramirez said. “My community back home was really bad when the outbreak first happened, so I wanted to help. Working with nursing and pharmacy students from USC and UCLA, and the L.A. County Fire Department, was a great experience."
"I loved visiting Potsdam, so I transferred, and I’ve been here ever since. I love the community feel and the small, closeknit environment. Knowing my neighbors, knowing all my professors by name, and them knowing my name, I love that. I don’t think I could have had that experience back home in California.” -Nikki Ramirez
Now back at SUNY Potsdam, Ramirez is wrapping up her undergraduate degrees in psychology and business administration, combining the two academic disciplines as she forges a career path into the field of health care. “I really wanted to get more experience, because that’s what I eventually want to do, probably health care administration, or maybe management, so that’s why I added the business major,” she said. “Initially I wanted to be a psychologist, so I already had the idea of health care, but I really love business, management, leadership, inspiring people and taking action, so I meshed the two worlds.”
Her outgoing personality and leadership skills are also on full display outside of the classroom. As a captain on the women’s volleyball team, she shares her passion for the sport with her with younger student-athletes on the team—something she has played competitively for the past 16 years. Ramirez first learned about SUNY Potsdam in high school when Volleyball Coach Joshua Stokes traveled to California to watch her play as part of a recruitment trip for the Potsdam Bears. Although she initially enrolled at Southern Vermont College where her high school coach went to school, she transferred to SUNY Potsdam her junior year.
“I came on a visit here and I loved it. I loved the community,” she recalled. “Everyone was so nice, the girls, the team, even now, I’ve grown and made connections with all of them.”
Being far from home can be a challenge at times, but Ramirez has found a supportive group of faculty and staff, most notably coach Stokes. “He’s such a nice man. He does a lot for his team and his players and really cares for him. Being from out of state it gets hard. I’ve done this for a while, but I still do get homesick, I do still miss my family, but he’s like my dad here. Anytime I have car problems I call him up,” she said.
After graduating in December, Ramirez will be continuing her education at SUNY Potsdam as she pursues her master’s degree in management within the Department of Business Administration. She will also be working as a graduate assistant on the men’s volleyball team—sharing her years of experience on the court as a coach and mentor for her classmates. With a future goal of working in the health care field, and coaching volleyball on the side, Ramirez is primed for a successful career after building a strong foundation at SUNY Potsdam.
“My experience here at Potsdam has been memorable. I’ve met so many friends and professors along the way that have helped with my education,” she said. “Potsdam will always have a special place in my heart.”
For more information about the Department of Business Administration, visit: https://bit.ly/3Bbsc9C
For more information about the Department of Psychology, visit: https://bit.ly/2YqKUMj
For more information about Potsdam Bears Athletics, visit: www.potsdam.edu/athletics
Article and photos by Jason Hunter