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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EWU pre-nursing student wins year’s tuition through COVID-19 vaccine incentive program

Erin Conroy, an Eastern Washington University pre-nursing student, left, accepts the prize of a year’s free tuition at Eastern from EWU President David May on Wednesday at the EWU Pence Union Building. To promote vaccination among students, the school has held drawings for $1,000 prizes, a campaign that culminated with Conroy’s award. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

CHENEY – Erin Conroy thought it was fake.

The email said her name was randomly selected in a drawing through Eastern Washington University’s EagsVaxUp COVID-19 vaccination incentive program.

Her prize: A year of free tuition.

Conroy, a pre-nursing major entering her junior year at EWU, was skeptical until she and her friends remembered that EagsVaxUp was legitimate. At the time the program was announced in May, Conroy was making an appointment to get vaccinated.

“We all pretty much just sat there in shock for a good couple minutes when we figured out it was actually real,” said Conroy, who is from West Seattle.

The tuition waiver was EWU’s top prize to students offered through EagsVaxUp. The drawing took place last week.

The waiver is worth nearly $6,900 – enough to cover the cost of three full quarters, at $2,299 per quarter, during the 2021-22 academic year, the university announced Wednesday.

For Conroy, the waiver will help her save more money for nursing school. Entering her final year of pre-nursing courses at EWU, Conroy said she hopes to attend Washington State University’s nursing program.

Through the nature of their employment, Conroy and her parents have been considered essential workers over the course of the pandemic. Especially after the three of them were diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this summer, Conroy said “it’s super important to stay safe.”

“Keeps my family safe, keeps me safe,” she said of getting vaccinated. “I would love to enjoy my last year here at Eastern before nursing school as I did as a freshman before it got cut short last year.”

Conroy’s name was drawn from the pool of students that uploaded vaccination information to Med+Proctor to be eligible for the EagsVaxUp drawings.

The university announced the EagsVaxUp program in May as a way to encourage students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated. The university officially introduced a vaccination requirement more than a week later, mandating proof of vaccination or exemption for medical or religious reasons.

As of Thursday, nearly 2,700 EWU students and staff have submitted their vaccination records or exemption requests to the Med+Proctor system. That includes approximately 1,700 students; it wasn’t immediately clear how many of those are health science students, who are set to start classes Aug. 23 at EWU’s Spokane campus during fall semester.

Interim President David May estimated roughly 9,000 students will attend classes on campus this fall out of approximately 12,300 total. The vaccination requirement does not extend to fully online students.

The university’s fall quarter, during which most students will take their courses, is set to start Sept. 22.

May said he’s continuing to have conversations with health experts about “how we continue to move the needle,” particularly in light of concerns surrounding the delta variant.

“I’m hopeful that we can get enough people vaccinated and enough people who are willing to wear masks that we don’t have to go back to a mask mandate in all spaces,” May said, “but there’s a lot of resistance and hesitancy, and unfortunately it’s become far more political than I think public health should be.”

As part of the EagsVaxUp program, EWU also raffled 10 scholarships, each worth $1,000, available through the Washington Student Achievement Council, according to the university. WSAC scholarships are funded by the federal CARES Act.

Drawings with prizes for students, faculty and staff will continue into December. Available prizes include parking passes, EWU athletics gear, theater tickets and an iPad Pro.

“We’re serious about this,” May said. “We know that getting vaccinated is the No. 1 thing that we can do to protect ourselves, to protect our community and to protect what we want to do in about two months, which is have a lot of people back on this campus and a lot of people back in classrooms.”