How colleges and universities are helping lead the response to COVID-19, from Hong Kong to Appalachia

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By Alyssa Trometter, CGI U Deputy Director, External Affairs

Since 2008, the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) program has brought thousands of students together to make Commitments to Action — service projects that make a difference in their communities around the world.

As students make these Commitments, they are assisted by the CGI University Network (U Network) — a collection of higher education institutions dedicated to providing expertise and counseling from professors and subject matter experts, as well as financial assistance to operationalize these projects. For the 2019–2020 academic year, 60 higher education institutions in nine countries are represented within this network of higher education professionals from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, and Hong Kong.

As the CGI University Class of 2020 has faced disruption in their daily lives, their learning, and their work in their communities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U Network has stepped up to help — both providing continued support to their students building their Commitments, and working closely with CGI U and the Clinton Foundation in support of the COVID-19 Student Action Fund that is identifying and supporting students, who are working to address the COVID-19 pandemic on their own campuses and in their own communities. The Action Fund launched on April 18, 2020, and any undergraduate or graduate students working within the COVID space are strongly encouraged to apply here.

Since late January, when the first U Network member Lingnan University (located in Hong Kong) shifted to remote teaching in light of COVID-19, we have discussed the ways leaders on college campuses can pivot their thinking and leverage resources. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed our U Network members answering society’s call, galvanizing faculty and student expertise, research facilities, and administrative leadership to tackle this most pressing issue, COVID-19.

The highlights below represent just a fraction of the work underway on U Network campuses around the globe. At CGI U, we operate on the firm belief that each one of us has the power to make a difference, especially when we take collective action. I hope these updates fill your heart and your head with optimism and encouragement during these especially trying weeks ahead.

Arizona State University (ASU)

With the aid of $2 million in emergency grants from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the Biodesign Institute at ASU has built and deployed a high-speed robotic system capable of processing 1,000 COVID-19 test kits a day and now has the capacity to produce 2,000 tests a day to help diagnose local health care providers, first responders, and essential workers.

ASU designed and demonstrated a flexible, high-speed, digital manufacturing system capable of producing personal protective equipment.

ASU has also organized more than 100 research groups who are working on COVID-19 solutions for both the near- and long-term.

Cornell University

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Cornell graduate student Esteban Flores isolates cells while working on antiviral solutions in Luis Schang’s lab at the Baker Institute for Animal Health. Ithaca, N.Y. on March 18, 2020.
Photo credit: John Munson (MRN)

Cornell University has been leading the way in offering virtual support for students, hard-hit sectors, and the general public. In addition to online classes and counseling services for students, the colleges within the Cornell University system are offering webinars related to COVID-19’s impact on issues beyond immediate student, staff, and broader community health concerns. Many are designed to serve the global community.

Both the Smith Family Business Initiative and the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell have a broad range of virtual events and webinars that they have made accessible to the general public. The Entrepreneurship at Cornell office is helping coordinate COVID-19 research efforts, with a web portal streamlining opportunities for research collaboration.

Finally, the Cornell Cooperative Extension has been reaching out to coordinate the response from the New York agricultural, food and beverage sectors, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. The Extension Disaster Education Network has been providing community education resources to Cornell’s networks — from helping farmers use surplus milk as fertilizer during supply chain disruptions, to giving local farmers access to financial resources to get through the pandemic.

ETH Zürich

Pharmacy students have launched a new “pharmadelivery” platform that links up pharmacies that can no longer meet the demand for delivery with students, who have volunteered their time to deliver prescriptions to Zürich’s most vulnerable populations. The platform has been initially launched with a focus on delivering medication, but other applications might also include storing medication deliveries, administrative support, and fulfilling medication orders. Students who have completed laboratory training might also help with the production of disinfectant. This will allow pharmacy staff to focus on talking to and advising customers, as well as on-site and phone sales. For more information check out this article here.

ETH Zürich’s Institute of Science, Technology, and Policy also launched the ETH4D Research Challenge that challenges students to develop solutions that will address the prevention and spread and/or mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the African continent. Student researchers are encouraged to establish partnerships with corporations, non-profits, and governments, as they combine technology, lessons on human behavior, and public policy to address the current COVID-19 crisis.

Imperial College London

Imperial researchers have developed a lower-cost ventilator made from off-the-shelf products and are looking for health organizations, manufacturers, and other organizations interested in helping take the device from design to manufacture. This design makes it possible to be used in countries around the world to help fight COVID-19.

In response to children being at home due to COVID-19 school closures and to support teachers who need to deliver materials online, Imperial has teamed up with TigTag to create free online STEMM materials to support learning by children from 5 to 11 years of age. Whilst the focus is on curriculum in the United Kingdom, it can support any primary school science curriculum.

Imperial’s President Alice Gast has developed a Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund, and along with Imperial alumni donations, it is conducting cutting edge research surrounding COVID-19. Research includes:

· Neil Ferguson’s landmark report modeling the impact of policy interventions on the spread of the virus (which guided global policy response to the outbreak);

· Robin Shattock’s team’s work on an RNA vaccine for COVID-19;

· Wendy Barclay’s pioneering respiratory work; and

· Biomedical engineer Professor Chris Toumazou’s development of a COVID-19 test requiring no special training or lab equipment.

Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver)

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Photo credit: MSU Denver

Using 3D printers provided by the Industrial Design and Art departments, Ted Shin (Professor and Chair of Industrial Design) and Will Kellogg (student, pictured above) are printing face-shield components to donate to local health care facilities in Colorado. Work began in late March and so far, the team has created more than100 headband components. The next stage in their process is laser-cutting face shields before attaching elastic straps produced by current MSU students and alums connected through the Make4Covid effort.

University of Illinois

Responding to the anticipated shortage of ventilators to help COVID-19 patients suffering from respiratory issues, 40 engineers, doctors, medical professionals, manufacturing experts and designers have a working prototype of an emergency ventilator for COVID-19 patients. The interdisciplinary team focused on designing a device that would plug into an oxygen source available in most hospital rooms or simply, into an existing oxygen tank. As of April 2, the working prototypes have run for more than 1.5 million breathing cycles, and the design had been licensed by more than 20 external organizations.

For the latest developments surrounding RapidVent visit here.

University of Melbourne

As part of a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia, researchers have mapped the immune system's responses from one of Australia’s first COVID-19 patients. Their research sheds insight on the body’s ability or inability to fight the virus and the potential to recover from the infection. University academics have also published about the mental health implications of self-isolation and quarantine requirements to tackle COVID-19, knowing that social support and social connectedness are one of the strongest predictors of resilience and recovery for individuals and communities following trauma and disaster. Read more here.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)

The Health Innovation Consortium (HIC) and the VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation have partnered to create a series of healthcare sprints. After pivoting a general sprint that was slated for this semester, they have centered their efforts on exploring solutions related to COVID-19 through healthcare and innovation. In this virtual sprint, university students who are currently learning from anywhere can participate fully in the Sprint. For more information visit VCU da Vinci Center.

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CGI U is a growing network of young leaders who are developing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

CGI U is a growing network of young leaders who are developing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

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