Whenever there is a crisis, Knights step up to the challenge to help campus, local and global communities as best we can. The coronavirus pandemic was no exception. Here are some of the ways Knight Nation has made a difference through community, innovation and impact efforts.

Protecting the Community

UCF partnered with Aventus Biolabs to open COVID testing sites on main and Lake Nona campuses, including antibody testing.

Yuisa Colón-Rosado ’16 ’20DNP leveraged her research expertise to create hundreds of safely designed masks for local nurses and fellow Knights.

Michael Deichen, associate vice president for Student Health Services, provided insight in an Inside Higher Ed piece on whether COVID-19 testing for students is feasible. Deichen has been the lead on UCF’s response to the coronavirus and has nearly 20 years of experience dealing with numerous communicable-disease threats, including H1N1, Ebola and Zika virus, at UCF.

Giving Back to the Community

UCF received $25 million in federal aid through the CARES Act to help alleviate student financial challenges due to COVID-19. The funds were intended to assist with costs related to housing, food, course materials, technology, healthcare and child care. To help provide aid for students not eligible for CARES Act funding, UCF, USF and FIU each received Helios-Florida Consortium COVID-19 Summer Completion grants of $200,000.

UCF dedicated three relief funds to help students and employees: The Student Emergency Fund, Student Housing Insecurity Fund and Employee Relief Fund.

In partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, the UCF Creative School for Children distributed free meals to local families in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biomedical sciences student Victoria Orindas and health sciences student Daniela Vulpe started Orlando Against Coronavirus, a local extension of a British organization called Students Against Coronavirus, to provide personalized cards and food packages for the homeless. The group has also organized book drives and provided online tutoring.

Using CARES ACT funding, UCF RESTORES began providing free mental health services in Spanish and English for Azalea Park neighborhood residents and Orange County essential workers. The project also includes creating stress-management videos for anyone to access online, as well as distributing iPads and providing Wi-Fi access at places such as schools and community centers to increase residents’ ability to access telehealth services and the videos.

Counseling and psychology researchers received a $7.5 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand a UCF-based Orlando relationship counseling project, which was created in 2015 and has become even more important during the pandemic.

Thomas Bryer, a professor of public administration and program director of the Office of Downtown Community Engaged Scholarship, received more than $73,000 as a planning grant from Volunteer Florida to assist communities economically and financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. He will address the issues by launching an AmeriCorps program at UCF.

UCF’s Community Counseling and Research Center has been offering free mental health services to the Orlando community since the 1990s, but due to the pandemic it expanded its services to include virtual sessions for community members in Parramore.

Theatre professor and costume designer Kristina Tollefson and her five daughters made masks to help protect UCFPD officers stationed at the main campus COVID-19 testing site on campus.

Rosen College of Hospitality Management faculty members David John, Jose Nieves and teaching assistant Lauren Sigmund ’19MS committed their salaries to UCF student emergency-support funds.

UCF graduate and New York City resident Tracy Wilk ’10 began baking sweet treats for medical workers in her community and created #BAKEITFORWARD, a social media initiative that encourages others to give thanks through food to those on the front lines of the pandemic.

Local mental health professionals Shainna Ali ’10 ’12MA ’16PhD, Candice Conroy ’08BA ’13MAand Sanya Matani ’10BA ’13MA partnered to create a free webinar, “Coping with COVID-19 Stress,” to address stress the pandemic has created for individuals.

After switching to remote operations, the Knight Line fundraising call center switched to ‘care calling’ to stay in touch with and check on alumni.

Improving Health and Well-Being

The National Science Foundation awarded Sudipta Seal and Griffith Parks a grant to develop a nanoparticle coating that could be applied to masks, gloves and gowns to catch and kill the coronavirus to better protect healthcare providers. Seal is an engineer specializing in materials science and nanotechnology and Parks is a virologist who leads research efforts at UCF’s College of Medicine. The pair is also working with Christina Drake ’07PhD to develop a new, rapid-acting, long-lasting disinfectant spray that instantly kills viruses without using harsh chemicals. Drake, a materials science engineer and owner of Orlando-based Kismet Technologies, Ltd, is the lead on the NSF-sponsored project.

UCF’s graduate clinical speech pathology program developed a course to prepare clinical professionals to meet the complex needs of patients hospitalized from COVID-19 and other related conditions.

Research Associate Professor Alicja Copik’s immunity-boosting cell therapy is in trials to test its potential for treating COVID-19.

Mechanical engineering assistant professors Mike Kinzel and Kareem Ahmed were awarded a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research Award for $200,000 to explore how cough drops may be used to help reduce COVID-19 transmission. The pair also authored a study that has identified physiological features that could make people super-spreaders of viruses such as COVID-19.

The College of Medicine awarded five faculty research teams $20,000 each to better understand and treat COVID-19, including projects related to treating elderly patients, using fungi to treat the virus, health disparities for racial and ethnic minorities, and studying the human-immune response.

Bolstering Teaching and Learning

On March 11, the Board of Governors announced that public universities in Florida must switch to remote instruction due to the coronavirus’ spread. With classes set to begin on March 18, UCF’s Center for Digital Learning had to quickly shifted operations from supporting an average of 200,000 credit hours to 700,000 — or an additional 6,600 courses — for 68,525 students. The CDL team launched Keep Teaching and Keep Learning websites to help faculty and students adapt to the instruction mode changes. The department also shared a care package with links to videos, podcasts and online teaching tools to help K-12 teachers adjust to online curriculum.

UCF launched 11 new graduate certificates and tracks specifically woven together to provide useful tools when facing COVID-19-related-challenges. The certificates, tracks and special topics courses cover a variety of fields from business and engineering to optics and health.

In an effort to help those affected by financial pressures due to COVID-19, UCF continuing educationand online-learning partner, Ed2Go, offered online professional development courses to the public for free for a limited time.

Faculty and staff members from the College of Community Innovation and Education developed the Parents as Teachers Hotline, which provides free assistance for parents of K-12 students.

Laurie Campbell, assistant professor and director of instructional design and technology, provided guidance on how families with fewer resources can make virtual school effective for their child.

WUCF TV launched Meet the Helpers, a multiplatform project for teaching children about first responders and other community helpers and better preparing kids for emergency situations.

Limbitless Solutions published a paper  that outlines how universities can help support local healthcare facilities prepare for future crisis after working on multiple projects to help medical workers and patients.

Leveraging Technology

Limbitless Solutions partnered with Alberti Chi, an associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University, and his team to create 3D-printed ventilators that requires no electricity — potentially saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, thanks to a compact, mobile and inexpensive design.

UCF launched a new Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Initiative, which awarded $185,000 each to five teams to conduct research related to COVID-19, including projects related to how the pandemic has impacted technology, creating nanofilm defense against the virus, studying gases exhaled by patients, and developing low-cost, quick virus detection.

James Hickman, professor at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, began using human chip technology to better understand the coronavirus without using people as test-subjects.

Assistant Professor of computer science Ulas Bagci co-authored a study that showed artificial intelligence can be nearly as accurate as a physician in diagnosing COVID-19 in the lungs, while overcoming some of the current testing challenges.

UCF began offering free virtual reality environment and augmented reality game apps, developed by assistant professor of digital media and artist Maria Harrington, to help teachers supplement science lessons and provide some stress relief for those isolated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The game aims to help young students better understand the wonders of nature and expose them to basic science concepts.

Associate Professor of management and cybersecurity expert Clay Posey and associate professor of psychology Mindy Shoss were awarded a $170,000 National Science Foundation grant to research cybersecurity risks of work-from-home environments.

Answering the Call to Help

Limbitless Solutions  supported face-shield production that included personal touches for medical workers through partnership with a nationwide 3D printing coalition led by Stratasys. Researchers in the university’s Prototype Development and 3D Print Lab also developed a more efficient design for face shields and respirators for Stratasys’ printers and partnered to provide supplies to Orlando Health workers.

In 2020, 117 physician Knights graduated from UCF’s College of Medicine and prepared to battle COVID-19. COM welcomed 120 students into the incoming Class of 2024, which UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright says are “needed now more than ever.” UCF-HCA Healthcare physicians in residency training also grappled with the virus. From the College of Nursing, 902 Knights earned degrees and graduate certificates, answering the national call for nurses with advanced training during the pandemic.

More than two dozen UCF students started part-time, paid positions on campus as “Armor Up” ambassadors to create awareness about the university’s COVID-19 safety protocols.

Associate Professor of medicine and Air Force Reserves Col. Jeff LaRochelle was deployed to the Queens Hospital Center in New York when the location became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an emergency medicine physician, molecular biology and microbiology graduate Jessica Goldonowicz DeSalvo ’09 helped treat COVID-19 patients at a local hospital, stating: “I care for people in their most vulnerable states, on their worst days, sometimes in their last hours.”

Lt. Cmdr. and nursing graduate Jason A. Duprat ’09BSN was deployed to New York City as a part of the COVID-19 Navy medical response team.

After studying health sciences at UCF, Frankie Catalfumo ’13 is using his expertise as an infection-control epidemiologist to keep patients and hospital staff safe at John Hopkins Hospital.

Stephen Brennan ’15BSN, a certified emergency nurse, fought on the frontlines of the worst-hit area in the U.S. at the time, as well.

Michi Leonardo ’18BSN worked for Orlando Health at the Orlando Regional Medical Center before accepting a nursing position in San Francisco to treat COVID-19 patients.

Andres Acosta ’20 served as manager for Seminole County’s Office of Emergency Management, leading a team that contacted households with confirmed COVID-19 cases and individuals who were awaiting test results.

UCF Assistant Professor of nursing Frank Guido-Sanz balanced teaching responsibilities with his duties as nurse practitioner at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s ICU in Miami and as a member of the National Disaster Medical System, which serves the most vulnerable patients in times of crisis.

To find more ways UCF faculty have shared their expertise on various subjects related to the pandemic, visit this story.