Three ways universities are helping their communities during the pandemic

Expert Insight

Three ways universities are helping their communities during the pandemic

Even though campuses are empty and students away, colleges and universities have found new ways to demonstrate their role as a key contributor to the health of their communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Below, EAB has rounded up some of our favorite examples of higher education institutions doing good during this challenging time, illustrating the diversity of ways campuses are giving back to strengthen community ties and drive innovation.

1. Housing those in need

Residential campuses have mastered the art of housing thousands of people in sage, self-contained environments. With the vast majority of students having been forced to return to their homes, these schools are taking advantage of housing portfolio to support new residents. Dozens of schools from across the country, including Vanderbilt University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have offered up their empty residence halls to first responders and medical staff who need a temporary place to live to avoid potentially spreading the disease to their families.

Some schools are even thinking beyond the needs of first responders. The University of Southern Maine is using its gymnasium to shelter local citizens experiencing homelessness, providing them with a safe place to stay away from crowded shelters and encampments where social distancing may be impossible. And Suffolk University has converted a residence hall to house COVID-19 patients experiencing homelessness.

2. Coordinating supply donations

LAYC Career Academy unloads supplies from the food bank during COVID-19.

Some universities have leveraged their central locations within communities and large constituent networks to embark on large-scale volunteer efforts to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies. For example,the University of Virginia has been using its campus as a collection point to gather donations of masks, gloves, gowns, liquid soap, hand sanitizer, and other desperately needed supplies.

And while not every school is near medical facilities, all campuses have a key resource they can tap: student and alumni volunteer networks. Tufts University, for instance, recently coordinated an effort, led by alumni, to hand-repair the brittle elastic on 6,000 N95 face masks, rendering them once again useable by medical professionals.

3. Getting creative with university resources

Although universities with medical centers have captured many of the headlines so far, working directly with first responders or COVID-19 patients is far from the only contribution schools can make. Almost every type of campus has resources that can make a difference in community efforts to fight the virus.

Does your university have an architecture or engineering program? What about a student makerspace? If so, you may be able to marshal 3D printers to make much-needed equipment for first responders, using readily available online patterns. The University of Maryland’s architecture students are printing face shields, and Johns Hopkins University engineers are manufacturing a prototype ventilator splitter that could be used to increase the number of patients supported per machine.

Don’t have medical facilities, but do have a veterinary science program? Perhaps you have ventilators from those spaces that you can donate, like Tufts did. Sewing machines in your theater, fashion design, or fiber arts programs? Make (or repair) face masks using one of the many patterns available online.

And for further inspiration, look to what is perhaps our favorite example of a university getting unconventional with their assistance: Butler University, which donated the computers used by their eSports teams to an international supercomputer network running simulations to find a cure to the coronavirus.

No matter what you have to offer, something is likely to be of use to your community—and there’s no better way to demonstrate all that your school can offer to its neighbors.

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