Meet seven students building innovative projects to fight COVID-19

These students are receiving funding for their projects through the Clinton Foundation’s COVID-19 Student Action Fund

Students from around the world are participating in the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) program — and as part of the year-round curriculum, these students develop Commitments to Action that address a pressing issue in their communities. This year, many students have developed commitments that are addressing the public health, economic, and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Clinton Foundation is supporting them with $100,000 through the COVID-19 Student Action Fund.

This Fund, which is funded by Founding Partner, Kevin Xu, and the colleges and universities that comprise the CGI University Network, provides $100,000 in total to select students at universities around the world, with each grant awarded ranging up to $5,000. Earlier this month, the Foundation announced 38 innovative projects that have received funding — with commitments ranging from infectious disease monitoring and response systems; emergency response; awareness and prevention campaigns; and other relief initiatives to provide immediate support for public health practitioners and other essential workers on the frontlines.

Meet a few of the COVID-19 Student Action Fund awardees and see what they are looking forward to as they mobilize innovative solutions to combat COVID-19.

Project Emre is a commitment by Jonathan Dhanapala, an undergrad student at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, that aims to build an electronic medical record (EMR) system that will support medical professionals in providing high-quality health care to displacement and refugee camps in developing countries.

By partnering with two regional NGOs who provide medical support to displacement camps, Jonathan’s team collaborated with doctors who treat patients to begin designing a tailored EMR system to fit their distinct needs. Emre will then leverage the data collected by the EMR system to identify and predict health trends, such as future pandemics. Once able to travel, the project pilot will launch in a displacement camp in Northern Iraq to help improve patient care, increase the efficiency of medical professionals, and capture data.

The Emre team is passionate about standardizing record keeping with this electronic system, which will result in more reliable and informed patient care.

“We at Emre are looking forward to addressing some of the most pressing problems surrounding health care in displacement and refugee camps. We believe that it is time for there to be equity in health care and are excited to have the Clinton Foundation supporting us along our journey.”

A commitment by Evelyn Wong, an undergrad at Harvard University in Massachusetts, to curate an online learning platform that pairs underserved K-12 students with undergraduates and postgrads from higher education institutions across the U.S., providing the K-12 students with one-on-one mentorship, web-based educational resources, and offline content.

After being sent home during the COVID-19 crisis, and as the widespread closures of public schools in large cities like Chicago and Los Angeles increased and educators nationwide transitioned to virtual classrooms, Evelyn and her team saw an opportunity to tackle challenges of equitable access to education by helping low-income students who cannot afford the resources needed for remote learning.

As an Action Fund recipient, Evelyn and her team are aiming to use university networks to identify, connect, and support K-12 communities of highest need; create downloadable content for offline use — focusing on subjects of high-need such as math; and partner with tech companies and local donation drives to supply students with learning-supported devices for continued virtual education.

“Having our efforts recognized and supported has felt like being in a kid’s playground again. Knowing that, as crazy as our idea sounded when it first started, it has grown exponentially and gained support from such a wide network of entrepreneurs is definitely surreal.”

A commitment by Melissa Diamond, a graduate student at Tsinghua University in Beijing, will holistically equip caregivers of children with disabilities in refugee and conflict-affected communities to support their children’s emergency and inclusive education needs.

While pursuing her master’s degree at Tsinghua, Melissa was forced to evacuate due to COVID-19 and while the pandemic has affected the well-being of many families, she saw that many of the vulnerable communities supported by her 2013 CGI U commitment A Global Voice for Autism were disproportionately impacted. A survey of her community members in Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Turkey, and the U.S showed that families in conflict-affected communities and families raising children with special needs are lacking basic resources such as food, adequate housing, and more.

Through the Action Fund, Melissa is working to meet the basic needs of families, employ refugee teachers who are currently unemployed due to the pandemic, develop enriching and inclusive educational content to families of primary-school-aged autistic children, and provide support to parents to reduce stress.

“People are giving each other advice, sharing insights, and working together at a new scale. The strength of this community, and of so many others, makes me optimistic that no matter what we face, we, as communities and societies, will find solutions to our challenges and work together to create a better society.”

A commitment by Alekhya Majety, an undergrad of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to develop a sterilization product that directs UV-C light onto the interior and exterior of reusable water bottles that effectively neutralizes any pathogens or viruses, such as COVID-19.

Amid COVID-19, students have taken an increased personal interest in their everyday sanitation practices to protect themselves and others as it became evident that college students often neglected to sanitize everyday items, such as phones and water bottles. That’s what drove Alekhya, along with her cofounders Kush Jain and Harshul Makwana, to focus on the dangerous pathogens that can grow in water and on water bottles. Being exposed to populations who don’t have access to proper health care or shelter has led her team to create a product, QUVI, that contributes to a more sanitary lifestyle.

Through the Action Fund, Alekhya and her team are working to develop the QUVI technology and distribute the finished product to universities and gyms across North Carolina in an effort to keep students safe.

“We are excited to get our first fully functioning prototype built and are most looking forward to getting our product in the hands of students. Looking ahead, we intend to have QUVI at universities and gyms across North Carolina by the end of next year.”

A commitment by Kulubo Nyamahlorpu Koquoi, a graduate student of African Methodist Episcopal University in Liberia, to train women and girls in rural Liberia on the preventive measures for COVID-19 and to educate them about Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and its reporting.

A recent study shows that since COVID-19 has affected communities around the world, violence against women and girls has intensified. The surge in cases worldwide has strained even the most advanced health systems, including those on the front lines of violence response.

To protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and sexual gender-based violence in Montserrado and Margibi Counties of northwestern Liberia,

Kulubo started a comprehensive public health campaign geared towards women and girls. Her hope is that through these efforts, she can contribute to a more vibrant and sustainable society where gender stereotypes and disparities do not exist. Through the Action Fund, Kulubo plans to operationalize her awareness and prevention programs to better educate women and girls on their rights and safeguard those at risk of gender-based violence.

“I’m optimistic that my project will effectuate change by giving accurate information about COVID-19 and preventive measures. I’m also looking forward to empowering women in rural areas to boldly speak out and take action against sexual gender-based violence in their communities.”

A commitment by Bincheng Mao, a New York University undergraduate and founder of the East Coast Coalition for Tolerance and Non-Discrimination (ECC), to promote inclusion in the medical aid sector by assisting vulnerable minorities with language barriers to receive equitable medical attention.

Bincheng was delivering donations of medical supplies to frontline hospitals in New York City when he encountered minorities struggling to receive medical attention because of their language or cultural barriers. Seeing these struggles firsthand drove him to start Equitable Healthcare Access for Minorities. Without support systems to promote more equitable access to health services, minorities, such as Asian and Latinx immigrants, can be placed in a disadvantaged position when seeking medical attention.

Through the Action Fund, Bincheng launched his project as a minority defense initiative ECC, a nonprofit organization Bincheng founded dedicated to minority equity. ECC currently has over 3,000 members from 15 universities and Bincheng has mobilized members to construct a comprehensive platform that provides accurate, up-to-date COVD-19 testing and treatment information for more than seven major cities in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Arabic, and more languages. Accompanying this platform, Bincheng is establishing a translation team that offers free over-the-phone translation services for minorities with language and cultural barriers seeking access to health care.

“As a minority immigrant myself, I connected their struggles to the ones my parents and I went through. When I sat down to help a family communicate with health care practitioners at a local hospital, I could see my own family in them.”

A commitment by Camir Ricketts, a graduate student of Cornell University in New York, to help schools in rural Jamaica gain access to internet-enabled devices and sponsored data plans so that students can engage in online courses.

Camir is the founder of the Minds of Initiative, which helps empower youth and create access to opportunities through a curated platform that promotes and fosters mentor-mentee relationships for young, talented students across the island of Jamaica.

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in global change in almost every industry and sector, including education. Unfortunately, this paradigm shift has served to highlight widespread inequalities in the education system as the most common approach to remote learning requires high-speed WiFi and internet-capable devices. Data shows approximately only 55 percent of households in Jamaica have access to broadband internet and many students, especially those who live outside the capital, don’t have WiFi at home.

Through the Action Fund, Project Access, an extension program of the Minds of Initiative, is establishing a web portal to raise awareness about the education access gap and invite the public to donate to help more students through purchasing devices and internet data plans. Camir hopes to help both primary and high school students gain access to education from their homes.

“The mere fact that I had a computer when I was younger gave me an excuse to learn. I am hopeful that the attention on these digital disparities and lack of access to the internet in rural communities will push governments and telecommunications companies to invest in the infrastructure necessary to overcome it.”

Support Camir’s project and other student projects through the CGI U COVID-19 Crowdfunding Challenge until August 28, and find the list of all 38 student recipients of the CGI U Student Action Fund here.

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