Illinois undergrads lead global student movement to fight COVID-19

4/27/2020 Maddie Yang

Written by Maddie Yang

Students at the University of Illinois have been working around the clock on a movement called Covalence, inspiring students to work on crisis relief within their community in the fight against COVID-19.

COVID-19 is heavily impacting communities, especially small businesses, healthcare workers, homeless people, and the elderly. Many students are in an ideal position to help, as self-isolation measures keep them at home—however, many don’t know where to start or how they can help. Covalence aims to help students find projects they can participate in, collecting a significant database of various projects from around the world. Students or groups who need more direction can fill out a Google form, which a Covalence team evaluates, and suggests projects they could become involved in. 

CAD model for Chien and Lee's door handle design.
CAD model for Chien and Lee's door handle design.
MechSE undergraduate students Peter Chien and Gene Lee are part of the 30-person team running the movement. They have been working late nights between their online classes to put this together.

“This is a real international problem, and it’s really urgent. If everything that we’re doing right now can even save one life, then we need to go all out,” said Chien, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. He and several other mechanical engineers have been working to create a hands-free door handle. They noticed that when people entered the fast food restaurants on campus, there was no good way to open the doors without using their hands. To combat this, the team created a CAD file for a design that fits onto a door handle, enabling the door to be opened with forearm instead of using the hands, reducing the spread of germs. 

On the Covalence Facebook page, called COVALENCE: Students Against COVID, students from around the globe have come together to share the projects they are working on in their local communities to combat COVID-19. A student in Cameroon wrote about his efforts to spread awareness in remote areas where many people are not even aware of the virus, asking for suggestions or projects he could implement. A Harvard University student posted an application for a data visualization group working with COVID-19 data. Other students have shared projects as simple as hanging signs to remind people to wash their hands or making homemade face masks.

The Facebook page is their primary hub for collaboration and communication and has nearly 1,900 members since it was created less than two weeks ago. Covalence welcomes students globally who are interested in contributing. 

“In the face of this pandemic, we’re not individual students, we’re not individual schools, we’re not even really individual countries,” said Lee. “We’re all just students and people being affected by the same huge problem, and we have a responsibility to take action and contribute towards the fight against it.”

Photo at top: MechSE undergraduate Peter Chien and his Covalence sub-team.

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This story was published April 27, 2020.