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University of Michigan students create their own campus COVID-19 initiatives

Group of UM students formulated more than 87 different plans structured to protect student safety, maintain overall college experience
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 7:25 PM EDT
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WTVG) - The University of Michigan welcomes its full student body back to campus on August 31st for the first time since early March when the Coronavirus outbreak began in the United States. But for one group of undergraduate students, their start to returning to campus began before their spring semester even came to an end.

A student-lead initiative has created almost 90 different restart initiatives that focus on keeping students safe and keeping their college experience as normal and as uninterrupted by the coronavirus as possible.

Recent Michigan graduate Sujai Arakali, after a conversation with a friend at the end of his final semester, knew he wanted to do something to keep himself busy and look out for his student body.

“We all just felt a little purposeless, Arakali said.” “I think a lot of students have lost internships, classes were fully online, and it was hard to find the motivation to do something.”

Arakali decided to speak with the University of Michigan College of Engineering Dean Dr. Robert J. Vlasic to voice her frustration with wanting to spend his time during quarantine creating something productive.

“If we want to make the campus as good as possible in the fall, we need everyone thinking of solutions and students are the ones who know the problems they are going to face on campus the best, Arakali said.”

Arakali turned to his peers at the University of Michigan for their ideas and their help to formulate a plan to counteract the difficulties arising this fall.

A collection of undergraduate students working all from their homes and apartments began creating a magnitude of plans and different unique outlines to reinvent the way the college experience would look this fall.

“So what we did is we drafted up a proposal and the administration was very supportive of it and over the next few weeks we marketed it, we set it up so it’s fully virtual. And we created this challenge for students to come with solutions to a lot of the problems we’re going to face this fall, Arakali said.”

New changes for the University of Michigan are being proposed by the student body themselves.
New changes for the University of Michigan are being proposed by the student body themselves.(Jack Bassett)

The team entitled the “COVID 19 Campus Challenge Organizers” finalized 87 different proposals covering topics from student housing, transportation, classroom behavior, and contact tracing of the virus.

Team member and Michigan junior Madison Caldwell said she felt lost when school ended and wanted to do something with her effort.

“I was at home just sitting around twiddling my thumbs all day”, Caldwell said.

Caldwell jumped on the opportunity to make a difference when her friends, as well as Arakali asked her to join the task force.

“When I first started getting involved in the challenge, I was more of in a behind the scene role, where I helped do administrative work and get marketing out there. After that I began transitioning into a mentor into the food and insecurity topic.”

Caldwell from her previous experience in volunteer organizations was aware that many people, even students at a state university struggle with food security. A subgroup of the COVID 19 Challenge Organizers lead by Caldwell was formed to help provide all students in need food.

“Because of the pandemic there’s been a lot more finical difficulties for students at the University of Michigan and so trying we’re trying to address that by making food more accessible for anybody on campus,” Caldwell said.

Other groups have focuses on contact tracing and capacity management, following one member’s concern.

“In regard to campus... that’s where you meet up, that’s where you go. You go to study rooms and you go to people’s dorms. Unfortunately, there’s no way to track where people are and if rooms are being cleaned and if social distancing is being maintained”, said Challenge member and Michigan junior Sanidhya Singh.

Singh a biomedical engineering student applied his knowledge and experience to the group to put in place a way to observe where people travel on campus, when they choose to frequent certain areas, and how often an area is in use as well as how often it has been cleaned.

“Administrators can do what they want in terms of high-level planning but we’re the ones who live on campus who deal with the problems every day and see the problems and the solutions because we’re the ones dealing with them. And empowering students to make decisions that dictate their own destiny in a way, giving them the tools to do so, and making a broader impact is kind of cool,” Singh said.

Singh said is he not only thankful for this group’s creation but he is also grateful for the collaboration of a wide variety of students from all walks of life working together as a whole.

“On campus, we have one of the brightest and smartest student bodies in the country if not the world, and it’s pretty cool to crowdsource them together to help make everyone here have a safe and productive semester,” Singh said.

University of Michigan administrators have yet to officially adopt the student's proposals into action, but they are in conversation however with some student members for guidance.
University of Michigan administrators have yet to officially adopt the student's proposals into action, but they are in conversation however with some student members for guidance. (Jack Bassett)

The University of Michigan has been in conversations with some group members about adapting some of their plans into place for the 2020-21 school year.

The COVID 19 Challenge Organizers hope their actions inspire others to follow similar plans of action.

“The problems that are going on at Michigan’s campus in the fall is not unique to Michigan, right? They’re applicable to every college and every school. So our goal was to at least prompt some sort of movement among students to start thinking of the problems they are going to face and start thinking of solutions and work with administration to get it implemented,” Arkali said.

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