When universities started shutting down in March 2020, many college students looked for opportunities to help their communities brace for the impact of COVID-19. Some of these students, who attend NJIT, are founders of organizations that focus upon creating personal protective equipment (PPE). The CommonHealth Project and ProtectNJ are two of these student-run organizations that continue to support their neighboring communities during the pandemic.
The CommonHealth Project was founded by several students including sophomore John Ade Kolade, junior Mark Pothen, and seniors Parth Agrawal and Juliana Yang of various engineering majors. ProtectNJ, on the other hand, was founded by now-graduated Biology student Naira Abou-Ghali and senior Architecture student Laura Gould.
“Like most people, we had been sitting at home a few weeks into quarantine frustrated and worried by news of healthcare workers wading into battle with no protection,” CommonHealth Project co-founder Parth Agrawal reveals. “We wanted to use any engineering skills we had to provide support from the backline.”
Both the CommonHealth Project and ProtectNJ materialized after NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College announced a contest for honors students to design a viable face shield model. Inspired to take on the initiative, the two sets of teams would later advance to establish their own organizations with set initial goals and supply chains. The CommonHealth Project focuses upon assembling reusable face shields while ProtectNJ has its volunteers sew reusable face masks.
The CommonHealth team worked closely with NJIT’s MakerSpace to accomplish their large-scale production. The MakerSpace had already put into place a full supply chain for face shield production, and a partnership in mid-May allowed the CommonHealth team to double their production.*
The two organizations have successfully met their goals and have no plans of permanently ceasing production. The CommonHealth Project boasts 200 weekly volunteers and have built nearly 20,000 face shields that are donated to more than 50 facilities, including schools. ProtectNJ has its 15-20 volunteers build a total of 5,000 masks so far that have been donated to 33 facilities. Originally, for Gould of ProtectNJ, she aimed to continue supporting frontline workers at hospitals such as Mount Sinai West and Saint Barnabas Hospital, but has now shifted focus to donate primarily to homeless shelters, food banks and soup kitchens.
When asked if she had any plans to cease production in the near future, Gould acknowledges that school is starting for most of her organization’s volunteers but remains committed to her initial mission of supporting her community. “We will continue to do the work as long as there is a mask mandate in New Jersey.” For the CommonHealth Project, the student leaders have decided to scale back production due to the alleviation of PPE shortage, but confirms “We will be able to reactivate our volunteer network to fulfill it [should there be a recurring need].”
Both organizations’ leaders strongly attribute their organizations’ success to the organized supply chain systems and the enthusiasm of their volunteers. In light of the success of the CommonHealth Project, in particular, Agrawal proudly proclaims, “All of our set goals have been achieved and there is nothing that could make us prouder.”
* Information regarding the CommonHealth Project’s partnership with the NJIT MakerSpace was added to this article after printing.