Producing Protective Equipment For Community
Oct. 6, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
By Sarah Burchett
COVID-19 led to many university events being postponed or cancelled, it also altered the outcome of numerous university grant projects. Many changed or ended altogether, but one Sam Houston State University instructor managed to look beyond the challenges.
While contemplating what could be done to help others during a difficult time, Rajesh Balaraman, a biological sciences professor, quickly formed an idea and wrote a grant proposal to energy provider, Entergy Texas. He requested funds to purchase supplies for the university to mass produce hand sanitizer and facemasks for the local community.
“SHSU’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs fast-tracked the application, understanding the importance of the project,” Balaraman said. “To my surprise I received an email saying Entergy approved the proposal.”
Thanks to the grant, SHSU students along with Balaraman and his colleagues Jeremy Bechelli and Tarek Trad from the departments of biology and chemistry, began mass producing protective equipment. Ericka Dupclay and Joan Hudson (biological sciences) also took the initiative to sew homemade masks for first responders. Through weekly deliveries, the team quickly distributed hand sanitizer and facemasks around the region.
By September 1, approximately 3,500 kits were distributed to 20 non-profit organizations and government entities including, the Good Shepherd Mission, Huntsville Police Department, SAAFE house, Huntsville Senior Citizen Center, YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, Huntsville Public Library, SHSU Food Pantry and several Huntsville area schools.
Throughout the grant project, Balaraman emphasized the value of student involvement.
“It’s important for the faculty to be in the background helping to move the students forward,” Balaraman said. “That’s what my boss did when I was getting my PhD, and that’s what I like to pass on to my students.”
Several SHSU students who helped drive the project said they enjoyed playing a role in giving back through the endeavor. Chelsea Thorne, a graduate student in biological sciences, oversaw the process in the microscopy lab with the creation of hand sanitizer and made sure all safety standards were followed.
“The hand sanitizer was made in accordance with the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. They were all tested for alcohol content,” Thorne said.
According to graphics design student Chelsea Akers, her group took the extra effort in creating safe facemasks.
“It wasn’t just a cotton mask. It was a quality item with three layers that simulated the efficiency of the N95 mask,” Akers said. “Teamwork, love, and collaborative effort went into each part of the grant project.”
Computer animation major, Jehoshaphat Chacko, and public health major, Samaj Hodges, found that the most rewarding part was providing the kits to those on campus and in the community. They were happy to be able to provide something needed by many, for free, to keep people safe and healthy.
Balaraman sees great value in SHSU students being actively involved in the community through hands-on experiences. This project, and similar upcoming efforts, are a testament to what the Huntsville community and SHSU can do together.
The next significant grant project for Balaraman (awaiting funding and under final review), will take place in 2021 involving the development of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) project with several SHSU departments.
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