COVID heroes

Houston area high school students develop innovations to help  in coronavirus crisis response

Teens at a local school took initiative to create entrepreneurial solutions amid the COVID-19 crisis. Photo courtesy of The Village School

Some Houston-area high school students have stepped up to help their community during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The students have worked on two separate teams to create an intubation box to reduce the spread of COVID-19 from patients to healthcare workers and SpeeDelivery, an app that delivers food for at-risk individuals.

The students from The Village School in the Energy Corridor, known for its unique and enriching IB diploma, are getting support from school educators. The two projects grew naturally from the interests of the high school juniors, who wanted to do anything that could help others during this crisis.

"Our teachers have been very supportive have really enjoyed having the opportunity to see the students," says TeKedra Pierre, director of experiential learning at The Village School. "It's hard enough to teach virtually but with platforms like Zoom, Google classroom, and other platforms that they have been using to communicate and make sure that our students are still doing well."

The students created the intubation box out of clear plastic with two areas of access so that doctors can put their hands through it and intubate a patient who needs a ventilator. The box prevents exposure to the virus which can be passed in microdroplets from patients to healthcare workers.

"It's extremely easy to build and effective, most importantly affordable so anyone could use it," says Varun Agarwal, one of the students who created the intubation box. "Our catalyst was reading about the shortage of N-95 masks, so we made the box essentially open-source design in our website so that anyone can take the design and send it to a hospital."

Agarwal's website is a youth engagement initiative that he started with his older brother and some friends, called Do Your Bit. The intubation box is only one of many projects. The box has already been used by doctors in the Princeton Hospital System with significant positive results due to their reusable nature.

The SpeeDelivery students were also inspired to lend a helping hand due to the hardship senior citizens were experiencing not being able to go grocery shopping for their own safety. The app allows students to safely do grocery runs for older citizens in Houston, Katy, and Sugarland.

"We came up with the idea of SpeeDelivery because we wanted to help the community who could not afford to go out," said Omar Abouelazm, web developer for the project. "Village students have this tradition to help as much as possible."

The students have currently done 15 deliveries, using appropriate personal protective equipment. They are working to ramp up their delivery system to expand the number of deliveries.

"It's helped us have that commonality and a closer connection to our fellow students because we all want to help others during this difficult time," says Mukhil Ramesh, finance director for SpeeDelivery.

Pierre and the students say that The Village School's culture has nurtured and supported their projects to help the community.

"It's part of the culture at Village, our students come from all over the world," says Pierre. "I think their ability to identify problems or identify solutions is unparalleled. It's ingrained into our school culture to be innovative, creative, and think differently."

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Building Houston

 
 

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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