Clemson Covid Challenge addresses pandemic problems, gives SC college students experience
In March, Clemson engineering faculty members were approached by Prisma Health to create a device that would limit the spread of the coronavirus from patients to the healthcare professionals treating them.
The faculty members enlisted the help of three Clemson engineering students.
In less than two months, the students created a "negative pressure device" that keeps a Covid-19 patient's airflow from the healthcare provider, protecting the worker from infection, explained Amanda Lematty, one of the students.
As the product moves into testing phases with Prisma Health, the students said the ability to work on a project, even remotely, has given them valuable hands-on experience amidst the state's stay-at-home order and canceled summer plans.
"We were both planning to study abroad in Japan this summer. So obviously, that was unfortunately cancelled," student Robert Falconer said of his and Lematty's summer plans.
"So this project has been a great way to get experience in the meantime."
The success of the project helped spur momentum for the Clemson Covid Challenge, a summer-long competition aimed at getting out-of-work college students across the state valuable experience while also working to solve problems wrought by the pandemic.
Many college students across the country lost internship and job opportunities due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey from recruiting company Yello.
"We have all these students that are really bright, they're really creative and they no longer have a summer opportunity. If we post this challenge to them, you know, we could get super innovative, really cool solutions," said Delphine Dean, the Clemson bioengineering professor who is spearheading the challenge.
But the loss of work means an abundance of time and creativity, Dean said.
"We can tap into that... they're coming up with these great ideas and they're gonna find a lot of great findings."
The challenge is also meant to provide an outlet for students, who may be isolated from their college communities or families amidst the pandemic.
That's one reason Clemson student Diego Nigoa enjoyed working on the "negative pressure device" with Lematty and Falconer.
"After the first two or three weeks (of online classes), you just get burnt out on doing the same thing. So it's good to have another thing that you can cycle over to," Nigoa said.
How it works
Dean said over 570 college students from Clemson, the University of South Carolina, Wofford College and Furman University have signed up to be apart of the challenge.
The students will be split into about 100 teams and paired with a senior mentor – professors from Clemson, USC and MUSC have all signed on – to work on solutions across academic disciplines.
"This is a great opportunity to work on something that's a real-life challenge... they can write on their resume what they did, they'll gain a lot of really cool research and design skills," Dean said.
The mentors will be on-hand to guide students through the process, but Dean hopes to utilize the professionals to students' future advantages, too.
"We're pairing them up with mentors so they'll make connections there and have someone, moving forward, who can be there for advising and then later if they're applying for grad school or a job... can be used as a reference," she said.
The outpouring of interest from students and professors has surprised Dean, who launched the challenge on May 1.
"A lot of folks want to help mentor students, but also have ideas of things they want to do. So it's going like gangbusters," she said.
The competition will culminate in a pitch competition at the end of June, Dean said. Once the winners are chosen, the groups will work with their mentors to secure funding and design their product ideas.
Zoe covers Clemson for The Greenville News and Independent Mail. Reach her at email@example.com or Twitter @zoenicholson_