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KU community comes together in spirit and purpose during uncertain times

As the world navigates these uncertain times, the University of Kansas is carrying on its mission of education, research and service in a safe and responsible manner.

The health and well-being of students, faculty, staff and the community is paramount, so KU transitioned to distance learning and remote operation in mid-March.

Although many KU community members are no longer physically on campus, students, faculty and staff are rising to the challenge to continue their important roles. They are using technological resources to teach, learn, work and stay connected while at home. A primary focus is making sure students stay on track with their educational goals and progress toward graduation.

“I am very proud of our community and how we have pulled together through this time of unprecedented disruption,” said Chancellor Douglas Girod.

Reaching out

In the midst of this crisis, even as individuals are facing their own challenges, alumni and donors have called asking how they can help. Jayhawks are checking on each other. Students are volunteering to shop for the elderly and those who would rather not risk going out in public for fear of contracting COVID-19. Everywhere, there are signs that we are in this together. In response, KU Endowment established the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

“From the Student Senate to alumni to faculty and staff, we’ve heard from many who want to help,” said Dale Seuferling, KU Endowment president. “The fact that people are thinking about how they can help others in their time of need assures me that we will get through this. I’m encouraged and inspired.”

Gifts to the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund will make resources available for the Office of the Chancellor to use in meeting the most pressing institutional needs. Anyone can give to the fund by visiting You may designate gifts for a specific need, such as students, the food pantry, faculty or staff by noting that in the Special Instructions box on the form. As with all donations to KU Endowment, 100% of funds raised will go to support KU.

Serving our communities

More than 50 KU School of Medicine seniors requested to graduate early to participate in the Kansas Pandemic Volunteer Health Care Workforce. The program will deploy them throughout the state as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new graduates will be able to serve in areas of critical need in Kansas, prior to beginning their residencies July 1 at locations throughout the country. Students from all three of the medical school’s campuses, in Kansas City, Salina and Wichita, have volunteered.

“We are proud that our students have stepped up to assist their fellow Kansans,” Girod said. “These medical students have met all requirements for graduation at KU, and the university is happy to assist by conferring their degrees early.”

Fourth-year medical student volunteers will be immediately granted the degree of Doctor of Medicine and be eligible for a special permit to practice medicine from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts. These new physicians will receive stipends for expenses and relevant training before being partnered with existing physicians throughout the state of Kansas.

The program will be administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and funded by a $1 million gift from the Patterson Family Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., which has a focus on health care, education and rural communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic could have devastating effects on the region we call home, challenging the most vulnerable among us,” said Lindsey Patterson Smith, director of the Patterson Family Foundation. “In Kansas, more than 30% of elderly people live in rural areas, and many rural physicians are themselves at high risk. The Patterson family is inspired by the volunteerism of the new graduates, and we are honored to support these new physicians as they serve where they are needed most.”

JAYHAWK SERVICE: Ellen Stallings is just one of KU School of Medicine’s Class of 2020 members who stepped up to assist with the response to the Coronavirus. She was one of the early volunteers who manned the COVID-19 hotline. Ellen will begin her anesthesiology residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., later this summer.
Photo by Ellen Stallings
Innovation in action

A phone call from an anesthesiologist at KU Medical Center to the director of the KU Center for Design Research (CDR) sparked the creation of an open-source design for a plastic face shield to protect health care professionals battling the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of some KU alumni and colleagues, the design was completed in less than a week. In just the first few days after releasing it online, the free design was downloaded more than 4,500 times all over the world.

About 10,000 of the shields were produced in the Kansas City area and provided to caregivers in The University of Kansas Health System. And that is just the beginning — almost anyone with a computer-aided router and a common type of plastic sheeting can produce more of them.

“It was one of these urgent pleas: You’re the innovation guy,” said Greg Thomas, a professor of design and director of the CDR in KU’s School of Architecture & Design. “What ideas do you have to help us? I worked with a couple of doctors in anesthesiology, and some from family medicine. It became an interesting night of formulating things we could do.”

Thomas focused on an idea to rapidly increase the number of face shields, important personal protective equipment that is in short supply. He teamed up with KU alumnus Tucker Trotter of Dimensional Innovations and Randy Edge of In-Store Design and Display, who had a face shield design ready for foodservice use. The team worked with The University of Kansas Health System personnel to adapt the initial design for health care.

The designers said the face shield can be made by almost anyone, anywhere because it is made from only two pieces, with little assembly required.

Thomas is now thinking about how to potentially repurpose CPAP machines used to help individuals with sleep apnea breathe better — or the factories that produce them — into much-needed ventilators. He is also looking into the systems needed to transport and track potential drone deliveries of COVID-19 test kits while maintaining physical distancing.

Leading the way forward

These are just some of the examples of how Jayhawks are pitching in to help during this time. Many KU faculty and staff members are working diligently to make sure resources are available to students and the community. Museums, libraries, centers and institutes are providing expanded materials online, streaming performances and lectures, and offering additional connection opportunities.

Although no one is exactly sure what the future holds, the worldwide Jayhawk family is adapting to the evolving circumstances and moving forward with purpose, care and compassion.

“Know that we are doing what Jayhawks always do,” Chancellor Girod said. “We are leading — whether it’s our health care professionals on the front lines fighting this pandemic or our researchers in their laboratories looking for cures every single day.”

Be well, be safe and Rock Chalk!

Editor’s note — Kay Hawes at the KU Medical Center Office of Communications and Rick Hellman at KU News Service contributed content for this story.

Share your stories

You give us hope. We are humbled and heartened to learn how members of the Jayhawk family are making a difference and supporting others in our communities. Please send your stories to

PITCHING IN: KU alumnus and Dimensional Innovations lab manager Brandon Wood wears one of the open-source face shields he helped develop to protect health care professionals.
Photo by Dimensional Innovations
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