Much has been documented about UofL’s work throughout the COVID 19 pandemic, including our agility in moving to remote operations and our deeply impactful research and medical work to fight the virus.
Perhaps the most inspirational narrative from the past year and a half, however, is the care and resiliency displayed by our students.
In an instant, their world shut down entirely, their social outlets were taken away, their formative years compromised. Yet our students kept on keeping on and achieved things that would be considered remarkable in “normal” times, let alone in a relentlessly lingering global health crisis. Here is just a sampling of the work our students have done to epitomize the Cardinal spirit.
When COVID-19 started to proliferate domestically, our students stepped up to both fight the virus and to help those in need. Bioengineering students Sienna Shacklette and Clara Jones, for example, collected test kits for the community when they were desperately needed.
Graduate assistant Kate Schneidau and four other Speed School students turned to the Additive Manufacturing Institute of Science and Technology facility at Speed School of Engineering to create protective face shields for healthcare workers, an item that experienced a critical shortage in those early days.
When masks became mandated, a group of UofL business students started a company to meet the demand for comfortable, reusable ones.
And when the community needed help with contact tracing or staffing vaccination sites, our students stepped up.
Research and innovation
Their efforts expanded well beyond the parameters of COVID-19, however. When it seemed like the world stopped, they kept pushing forward on several research and innovation efforts to ensure progress continued in the face of uncertainty.
Two doctoral students, Zach Whiddon and Kyle Whyland, in the Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, received funding from the National Institutes of Health to support their research on taste buds and brain circuitry, for example. It’s not common to receive such funding before earning a PhD, by the way.
Further, a team of undergrads invented a new tool for monitoring E. coli bacteria in water sources that could be more efficient and cost effective. Speaking of water, UofL student researchers recently started working with the U.S. National Park Service to help river towns use recreation to drive tourism and economic development.
Throughout the global health crisis, our students launched a new undergraduate research journal, helped develop a new cell-based therapy for the treatment of aggressive solid tumors, created a technology for detecting marijuana through breath, launched a smart glasses virtual shadowing program and figured out how to get our iconic Clock Tower bells ringing again.
Local, national, international impact
Whether ensuring kids didn’t go hungry during the lockdown or underrepresented students had a level playing field, our students also put in plenty of service and social justice work throughout the past 18 months.
Our student-athletes, for example, generated more hours of community service during the 2020 academic year than any other power five school, while our interior design students helped design a local homeless veterans development.
UofL students Giavanna Combs and Leah Hazelwood represented the city of Louisville as official ambassadors for the Kentucky Derby Festival, which requires a considerable amount of community service work.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Alixis Russell balanced law school at UofL with being called to state active duty as a member of the Kentucky National Guard, while a group of sophomores worked with a local nonprofit to ensure children had enough school supplies for their remote learning environments.
UofL engineering students helped develop virtual STEM lessons for K-4 kids at home, while Jacob Foushee and Lily Stewart developed a plan to achieve zero waste on campus, nursing student Paige Newquist set out to increase access to healthy foods for Perry County residents, and several students pitched in to restore Muhammad Ali’s childhood home in Louisville’s west end.
That’s not all. Not even close.
In the past year, UofL med student Onu Udoh founded a series called GROW502 to highlight the health disparities that plague underserved communities across Louisville, while another group of med students helped create the Future Healers Program to assist Louisville youth affected by violence navigate trauma and build a better future for themselves and their communities.
Junior Ethan Volk created a nonprofit to help Black students advance their career aspirations, while med student Tino Mkorombindo established Greater Influence Inc., a nonprofit that serves as a resource for minority students who plan to pursue a career in medicine. Sophomore Rawan Saleh has been recognized by several organizations, including the Arab American Foundation, for her work to end racism.
And in the throes of the pandemic, when it seemed as though the music stopped, drum major Natalie Humble reached out to several friends at other universities across Kentucky and facilitated a virtual performance of “My Old Kentucky Home” on what would have been Derby Day 2020.
Meanwhile on campus, our students had a major hand in designing our new residence halls, continued their partnership with Special Olympics Kentucky, came up with creative solutions to keep the raiseRED tradition going to raise money for pediatric cancer, put our Esports community on the map and contributed to a Breonna Taylor exhibit at the Speed Museum.
Through it all – the ups and the downs, the unknowns, anxiety and fear, our students continued to accomplish big things. Major things. Pride-inducing things.
Take, for example, senior Industrial Engineering students Jorge Sanchez and Mercedes Pastor, who finished second at the 2021 Student Simulation Competition, while a separate engineering team from UofL competed in an international solar decathlon.
Further, Ryn Kalbfleisch, from the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering, was one of 10 students recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineering for its 2020 edition of the “New Faces of Engineering.” And, Civil Engineering Major Sophie Lipomanis was named as a national spokesperson for the American Society of Civil Engineering for the second year in a row.
Our student-athletes achieved extraordinary feats on and off the field, placing a school-record 413 Cardinals on the ACC Honor Roll, for example, and achieving a 91% graduation success rate. Meanwhile, our Spirit Squad won its seventh consecutive national title, Catcher Henry Davis became UofL’s first No. 1 overall draft pick in the Major League Baseball Draft, and we sent 10 Cards and former Cards to Tokyo to compete in the Olympic Games.
Finally, importantly, our students continued to win prestigious international fellowships and scholarships, including now-senior Lexi Raikes, who earned Kentucky’s only 2021 Truman Scholarship. For this unprecedented 2020-21 academic year, UofL has once again been named a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Top Producing Institution – our seventh year on the list for this prestigious award.
What does this all prove? Our students are extraordinary, spirited and inspiring, and not even a global pandemic can slow them down. They will continue to rise to the challenge, no matter how large, as they make our campus, our community and our society stronger.