When Purdue canceled all in-person instruction halfway through the spring semester, all University-affiliated programs were also canned.
Hundreds of students who had plans to advance their education further during the academic off season were stopped in their tracks when the pandemic reached the community.
When Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced the University planned to have students return to campus in the fall, a "critical piece" of the reopening plan was figuring out how to get students involved, said Heather Beasley, member of the Residential Life group of the Protect Purdue implementation team.
ProjectX Safe Campus, she said, was the answer to both of those problems.
The five-week program was designed as an interdisciplinary approach to having students work on solutions to keep campus safe for in-person experiences, according to a May press release.
The project officially ended on July 16 with a ceremony over Zoom to celebrate the participating students.
But what exactly was ProjectX, and how did it work?
A 'robust' experience
The idea originated from wanting to give students a "proper summer experience" after internship programs were canceled, Beasley said.
When the idea was announced, Krannert School of Management, the college at the helm of the project, was overwhelmed by the number of students who wanted "to be a part of the solution," said Tim Newton, director of communication in Krannert.
"We had 310 students participate," he said, and those students split up into groups, randomly given one of the four prompts and were asked to come up with a problem-solving response. Each group was comprised of three to six students and was given an "alumni coach" to help them formulate and propose solutions.
The "scenarios" covered a variety of potential problems Purdue might face in the fall:
- Scenario 1: Create a solution to ensure that portion of the Purdue community that lives off campus can maintain health and safety practices. Are there ways to educate stakeholders about potential risks, good practices and personal care?
- Scenario 2: Create a solution to ensure the Purdue community and "deep Boilermaker spirit" remains alive this in face-to-face, remote and hybrid-educational environments. How can we help all populations of our student body in staying or becoming connected?
- Scenario 3: Develop a plan to preserve safely the residential student experience, including virtual experiences as it relates to student support. How can we support our students during this time?
- Scenario 4: Develop a manner in which Boilermakers — no matter how the method in which they are learning in the fall — can experience the co-curricular classroom learning of this era. How do we engage students in learning communities both on and off campus?
At the end of the five weeks, 67 projects were submitted, Newton said. Those projects were judged by committee heads of the Protect Purdue implementation team, and the four best projects — one for each of the prompts — were highlighted in the July 16 celebration.
The Exponent watched the virtual unveiling of four of the resulting projects. Let us tell you about one of them, an idea for an app that would bar positive-testing Boilermakers from entering campus buildings.
Members of The SuClean Theorists said ProjectX was the first interdisciplinary case competition they'd participated in.
The team was assigned to the first prompt and presented an app called "Purdue Pass." The app would gauge a student's, staff's or faculty member's health with a three-question survey, said Noor Abdullah, a student studying biology. Upon answering those questions, the app would give the user a "green pass," a "yellow pass" or a "red pass."
The app would be linked to the user's Purdue ID and would limit their access to campus buildings, depending on the pass they were given — no limits if given a "green pass," a 48-hour bar if given a "yellow pass" and a 72-hour bar if given a "red pass," the team explained during the presentation.
Calvin Huang, who is studying economics and math and has completed other case competitions, said the ProjectX experience was out of the ordinary.
"In most case competitions, they usually give you the scenario, and there’s already kind of a ‘developed solution’ that’s already real-world," he said in an interview with his teammates. "In our case, (it) was happening in real time, so we quickly realized that we were developing a product or solution that was not competing against other teams, but basically competing against Purdue itself."
The team was originally planning on taking an advertisement, educational approach, Abdullah said, but then realized the Office of Marketing and Media had just started rolling out its own plan on that front.
Back to the drawing board.
At another point, the team was thinking of creating a hotline of some kind, she said, then the University announced the Protect Purdue Health Center and its hotline.
Start back at square one.
Each time the group was pushed back to the starting line, Abdullah said a couple of things remained constant.
"We wanted something (that was) relatively inexpensive, was easy to use and also had that daily impact, that daily visibility that you wouldn’t be able to ignore," she said.
"Part of our solutions — the reason we came up with an app and the (use of) the door card readers — is because we knew there’s going to be students, staff or faculty that don’t (follow) the safety guidelines as they should."
Though the group agrees that ProjectX was a helpful experience that could enrich any resume, they say the experience was much more than that.
"I feel we all agree on what the highlight was," said Gwynelle Condino, an electrical engineering student, "towards the end … the team bonding, the camaraderie, the late nights we would stay up preparing for the final presentation.
"That to us was the highlight because we felt like it was more than just a team, more than just an internship. We felt like we were actually getting to know each other, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses," she said as her groupmates nodded their heads in agreement.
“This was probably one of the best presentations we’ve worked on. We were all very proud and excited to see what would result from all our hard work," finance and pre-med student Kareem Harb added.
The next step
All 67 projects are now in the hands of Beasley, who said she is combing through them "across the board and asking, 'What pieces can we use?'"
She said there won't be a single "winner" of ProjectX, with only one of the projects being implemented in full for the fall. What's more likely is that the Purdue community will see tidbits of ProjectX ideas strewn about campus life throughout the semester.
The SuClean Theorists say, regardless of whatever gets implemented, they hope to see Purdue continue what it's been doing since the start of the crisis.
"Seeing Purdue continue to follow the science is really nice," Abdullah said. "I think listening to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and seeing those implemented is fantastic."
"One of the best things we’ve learned in this project is learning how much money Purdue is putting into actually helping the students protect themselves during the pandemic," said multidisciplinary engineering student Jack Sharba said.
"I think it will be really great to see how they spend that money to actually protect the students."