Academia Answers the Call in Michigan by Supporting COVID-19 Response Efforts

Courtney Overbey

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

From K-12 schools across the state to nationally recognized universities, Michigan’s young talent and research expertise is coming together to support an Arsenal of Innovation in the face of COVID-19.

Wayne State University volunteer, Sydnee Wargo, collects patient information. Image courtesy of the University Research Corridor.

When the novel coronavirus outbreak began in Michigan in March, businesses of all sizes and all industries began working around the clock to support the state’s response efforts, from retooling production lines to manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to pivoting technologies to support testing efforts. But Michigan’s ‘Arsenal of Innovation’ extends beyond the manufacturing floor or testing labs, as the state is home to the highest concentration of engineering talent in the nation and ranks in the top 10 nationally for the number of STEM graduates. As a result, the state’s education network – from universities and community colleges to K12 school districts and after-school clubs – have answered the call in recent weeks to protect and support Michigan’s frontline public health workers.

Higher education helps hospitals, researchers take response efforts to the next level

As an alliance between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC) is familiar with leading groundbreaking research efforts, as it is responsible for conducting nearly all academic and federally-funded R&D in Michigan. Now, the URC is leveraging its extensive research and talent pipeline to support response and recovery efforts. The foundation for this effort lies in all three university presidents being medical doctors as well as serving on Governor Whitmer’s Michigan Economic Recovery Council, a group of health care and business leader experts advising the governor on a strategy to safely re-open the economy. Together, URC universities have moved more than 1,000 health care professionals to the frontlines, either through spring graduations or by allowing students to enter the workforce early due to the heavy demand.

Wayne State University mobile testing unit. Image courtesy of the University Research Corridor. 

Between the three universities, there are also more than 400 new COVID-19 projects and research studies underway, including WSU’s partnership with nearby hospital systems to study new COVID-19 treatments; U-M researchers tracking the spread of COVID-19 through community wastewater; and MSU validating a more accurate and resource-driven COVID-19 test for public detection.

Other higher education institutions around the state are also supporting response and recovery efforts. In southeast Michigan, Monroe Community College is transforming its makerspace – a workspace encouraging innovative tech and non-tech creations – to develop face shields for local hospitals and healthcare workers, while offering their employees the option to donate part of their salaries to help purchase medical equipment for local frontline workers. Northern Michigan University is collaborating with UP Health System - Marquette to produce Plexiglass canopies to protect patients during the intubation process to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19. Kettering University also partnered with the city of Flint and Hurley Hospital to provide drive-thru testing sites on Kettering University’s campus.

K12 schools leverage robotics teams to develop, donate PPE

Despite an unexpected early end to in-class learning this year, many K12 schools and students are working together virtually to support their community’s response efforts through their local robotics teams. In recent years, Michigan has made a name for itself in the robotics world, as the nonprofit FIRST Robotics group has supported more than 600 robotics teams in school districts around the state, helping inspire an appreciation of science and technology and to encourage young people to pursue STEM careers.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and national need for PPE supplies, FIRST Robotics launched a 1 Million PPE Challenge, encouraging states with FIRST Robotics teams to encourage their members to answer the call for public health and frontline workers in their states. Of the 15 states that are participating in the challenge, Michigan has already donated 98% of the more than 2.1 million items of PPE collected, highlighting the depth of the Arsenal of Innovation here in Michigan.

At Mason Public Schools, the robotics team is holding virtual meetings to discuss how they can use their knowledge and experience to support their community while social distancing, including by 3D printing face shields and donating to local hospitals.

Similarly, the Romeo High School robotics team – dubbed the Byting Bulldogs – is also using their time outside the classroom to 3D print face shields for frontline medical workers and first responders in the St. Clair Shores Fire Department.

Five months into the year, and 2020 has delivered a series of unexpected challenges for all Michiganders, with students and young people experiencing disruptions in classes, learning environments and major events like graduation. Yet in the face of these challenges, Michigan’s talent pipeline – from grade school through grad school – are innovating in the face of COVID-19 to prove once and for all that Michigan truly is stronger together.

To learn more about the resources available for businesses and workers throughout the state, visit, and go to to find information about MEDC’s impact on response, relief and recovery efforts throughout COVID-19.

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