CLEMSON, South Carolina – Hundreds of undergraduate students accepted the challenge to battle the COVID-19 pandemic this summer through an innovative research project spearheaded by Creative Inquiry and Delphine Dean, the Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor.

The Clemson COVID Challenge was a virtual research and design opportunity that began in May. Teams of students worked with faculty mentors and graduate students to identify problems and propose new ideas and solutions. In mid-June, students submitted pitch videos of their ideas and competed for the opportunity to see their projects possibly continue to implementation.

Dean came up with the idea as undergraduate research, internships and study-abroad programs were being cancelled due to COVID-19. She wanted students to have continued opportunities to conduct research remotely, and students were looking to make an impact.

Student at computer

The Clemson COVID Challenge was a virtual research and design opportunity that began in May.
Image Credit: Clemson University

For the COVID Challenge, more than 400 undergraduate students worked with 97 faculty/staff and 32 graduate student mentors to form 86 teams. The teams represented a wide range of academic disciplines and institutions, including Clemson, University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, Furman University, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Prisma Health, Winthrop University, and Wofford University. Most of the teams included a mix of students and mentors from different institutions, which has already helped to spur some new statewide collaborations.

Each team had a month to craft its plan. The program provided some initial small funding for supplies to prototype or test ideas. The program also featured weekly Zoom Seminars for professional development. The teams then submitted three-minute videos to pitch their projects. Projects covered a wide range of topics and were grouped into five categories: Communication; Education; Healthcare/Technology; Policy/ Economy/Logistics; and Society/Community.

Some 80 volunteers from academia and industry judged the video pitch submissions, and the top eight teams presented their videos and answered questions during a virtual awards forum on June 29. The forum had 220 participants.

The Clemson COVID Challenge is supported by The Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professorship, the Clemson College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences Dean’s Excellence Fund, the Vice President for Research, and the Creative Inquiry and Undergraduate Research Program, as well as the University of South Carolina.

Many of the teams will continue their work in the fall semester through Clemson Creative Inquiry and the U of SC Undergraduate Research Office. With this initial success, Dean said she is also working to set up this program for future summers and exploring options to expand its reach.