UGA students collaborate on COVID solutions

While COVID-19 was disrupting daily life across the world over the past five weeks, three dozen UGA student teams were working together in a virtual hackathon to solve the unprecedented problems caused by the pandemic.

Nearly 200 UGA student innovators from 43 majors participated in the COVID-19 Virtual Design Sprint, sponsored by the College of Engineering and UGA’s Innovation District initiative. Students formed interdisciplinary teams, identified a specific problem related to the coronavirus, developed design concepts, and then refined their ideas into three-minute video presentations.

The virtual program wrapped up the evening of May 18, with the top five teams pitching their designs and solutions to a diverse panel of judges and competing for a chance to win up to $3,000 in prize money. Judges included: S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost; Donald Leo, dean of the College of Engineering; Kelly Girtz, mayor of Athens-Clarke County; and 14 industry and corporate partners.

UGA seniors Cheryl Maafoh (majoring in management information systems) and Abigail Snyder (marketing and entrepreneurship) won the top COVID-19 Virtual Design Sprint prize. Their “Clean Campaign” initiative aims to address hygiene challenges facing Athens’ unsheltered population by creating hygiene kits using toiletries and personal care items donated by local hotels. The kits are designed to be extremely portable.

“The Design Sprint taught us to really listen to a problem before jumping to any solutions. It was a great experience that taught us the value of a phone call and reaching out to local networks,” Snyder said. “As a team, we plan to continue contacting local organizations and hotels about Clean Campaign. Our goal is to supply 1,000 hygiene kits to serve the Athens community by the end of the summer.”

Joining Clean Campaign in the Design Sprint finals were:

  • Community Connections – creating a system to measure and relay social interactions and connections among older populations.
  • QuaranTEAM – installing ultraviolet germicidal lights to sanitize shower spaces used by unsheltered individuals.
  • TBD – augmenting nebulizer masks to prevent COVID-19 exposure to first responders transporting COVID-19 patients.
  • WellCalm – developing a mobile application to help individuals maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“The quality of the outcomes and deliverables produced by all the Design Sprint teams is truly novel and impressive,” Leo said. “It is inspiring to see so many members of the UGA innovation ecosystem collaborating to solve the COVID-19 challenges facing our community, state and society.”

Professors, first responders, doctors, social workers and local business owners all served as subject matter experts who identified different challenges stemming from COVID-19. Problems ranged from effectively decontaminating personal protective equipment and scaling up contact tracing to the negative implications of social isolation and social distancing on older adults.

All of the teams that participated in the Virtual Design Sprint will be eligible to continue developing their solutions and products through entrepreneurial and accelerator programs offered at UGA, such as its National Science Foundation-funded I-Corps program and its student-focused Entrepreneurship Program.

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