COVID-19 Challenge Accepted
One of the most devastating aspects of COVID-19 is its ubiquity. Everyone who is not battling the virus itself is living in its shadow. That omnipresent threat has wreaked havoc on almost every aspect of everyday life.
For example, slowing the coronavirus’s spread has required businesses and organizations to adopt crippling, if not ruinous, physical distancing practices. And Rochester’s professional community has not been immune to this adversity. In typical fashion, the University of Rochester embraced the problem as an opportunity for innovation. The problem became the COVID-19 Challenge.
A collaboration between the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, Barbara J. Burger iZone, Grand Challenges Scholars Program, Greene Center for Career Education and Connections, and Rochester Center for Community Leadership, the challenge was created to give students the opportunity to build competencies and gain valuable experience while fighting the effects that the pandemic is having on the City of Rochester.
Deniz Cengiz ʼ21, a Karp Library Fellow at iZone, explained that at the outset, they were preparing for a competition that would include one community partner and as many as 10 teams. Then they opened registration, and it blew up.
“I think we had about 150 applications,” says Cengiz, who served as the community partner liaison. “We had PhD students from the Medical Center. We had all levels of undergrads. We had incoming freshmen who hadn’t even been to Rochester yet. We really weren’t expecting this many students, and realized we had to add more partners.”
When the dust settled, there were around 42 teams—about 10 for each community partner, who had specific problems students had to address. And it quickly became clear that the community partners were as enthusiastic about and engaged in this challenge as the students.
“They were incredibly involved,” says Cengiz of the partners. “I would say they gave 20 to 25 hours of their time over the 10-day period. They deserve a lot of credit.”
Students used the 20-plus hours given by the partners on problem-solving communication. That communication included email correspondence and “office hours,” which served as dedicated time for teams to get more information about the organization, more details about the organization’s problem, and to talk through some initial ideas for solutions.
In the end, there may have only been two official winners, but it’s clear there were no losers. Even the teams who didn’t come out on top were grateful for having the close working experience with their respective organizations. The partners equally enjoyed collaborating with the students. Cengiz shared that feedback on the challenge was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“Basically, everybody wants to keep working together,” says Cengiz.
The challenge ended with a “pitch day,” where all the teams gave presentations to their respective organizations. Each organization then chose a finalist from their group, who would pitch to all the partners at once. Finally, the partners choose the top two from the final four. Those teams were…
Matthew Cook is the senior communications officer for the libraries and collections at the University of Rochester. He is also the writer and editor for the libraries’ monthly newsletter, Tower Talk.