College life in the time of COVID-19 – it’s an unexpected experience that raises a variety of unique challenges, questions and concerns that are seemingly ever-changing. Whether you’re living in a dorm or off campus, taking classes in person or online, social distancing or attempting to maintain a social life, as a college student adapting to a “new normal” there may be one common thought weighing heavily on your mind: What’s next – and what can I do to make a difference?

Gen Z is driving change in the country. The most diverse generation in our nation’s history, you are passionate about causes that matter – not just to you or to people like you, but to all of us. Your passion for social justice, diversity and the creation of a better future for us all is what will lead to positive changes for generations to come.

Better yet, your inner passion causes you to take action – not just to sit by and wait for things to happen to you and around you. This year’s unprecedented pandemic may have changed how and where you can act, but there are still opportunities to effect change.

One exciting opportunity is through participation in health research. Historically, research has taken a one-size-fits-all approach – taking into account only select segments of the population and leaving others unrepresented. Minorities, the LGBTQ community, and even women have been historically underrepresented in research, leaving major gaps in medical discovery. If there’s anything the pandemic has brought to light, it’s that while it affects everyone, some communities are at greater risk of serious illness than others. We have to get to the bottom of this disease – and we can only do that through diversity in research.

That’s where the All of Us Research Program comes in – and where we can use your help. A historic initiative of the National Institutes of Health, All of Us is helping to transform the future of health through precision medicine – focusing on the person, not the disease – and researching the connection between each individual’s genetics, lifestyle, behavior and environment, and their risk for illness.

The program aims to involve a million participants from diverse communities all across the country – communities that have been left out of research programs in the past – to help uncover groundbreaking medical discoveries that can bridge existing gaps and inequity, and, in turn, combat future disease in vulnerable communities.

That future starts now. While All of Us started before the age of COVID-19 and has a much broader focus – researching cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more – the program, like the rest of the world, has taken on the challenge of combating the novel coronavirus. We have implemented several COVID-19 research initiatives into our program.

We know that Gen Z has been hit hard by the pandemic.

  • Physically – in June to August 2020, incidence of COVID-19 was highest in the 20-29 age group.
  • Economically – early on in the pandemic, more than half of Gen Zers surveyed reported that they or someone in their family lost a job due to the lockdown.
  • And emotionally – Gen Z has come of age in a time of growing uncertainty in so many forms, and anxiety levels are high. A recent study of more than 1,600 GenZers found that more than 62% reported that the isolation of the pandemic has worsened their mental health.

That’s why it’s even more important than ever to take action. Participating in the All of Us program is a simple way to act no matter where you are – whether you’re in your dorm, your sorority or fraternity house, and off-campus apartment or learning virtually from your parents’ house. All it takes is a computer and a commitment to changing the future of health for all of us. Participation is power and you have the power in your hands to make a difference at a time when diversity in research truly matters.

Research is hope. Research is change. Research is the future. Research is you.

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