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UMass Lowell senior’s project a boon during pandemic

Nashoba Tech graduate Katherine Mayer sets up plan for ctirical supplies

UMass Lowell senior Katherine Mayer
UMass Lowell senior Katherine Mayer

LOWELL — Katherine Mayer, a senior Public Health major at UMass Lowell, was ahead of the curve when it came to being prepared for the current coronavirus pandemic.

Last fall, Mayer, a Townsend resident and 2016 graduate of Nashoba Valley Technical High School, wanted to help UMass Lowell’s Emergency Management team with “something they didn’t have yet” for her Honors College capstone. So she consulted with Kevin Conley, the university’s coordinator of emergency preparedness and EMS, and decided to draw up a detailed plan for dispensing critical supplies, such as food, clean drinking water and medical aid, to members of the university community in an emergency.

Then, along came COVID-19, and Mayer, who is also an EMT, saw her plan implemented within weeks or months.

“It’s important to be able to distribute and dispense things quickly for a critical response in any kind of emergency, but now I’m thinking about it in terms of a vaccine for COVID-19,” Mayer said. “This was going to be my capstone anyway, and it just happened to be something that became really relevant.”

Mayer is one of hundreds of seniors who have had to pivot quickly on their senior capstone or honors capstone projects because the university has closed all academic buildings on campus, including science, engineering and computer labs, art rooms, performance venues and makerspaces.

Some seniors who are unable to finish their research can write about what they’ve already accomplished. Some have switched to reviewing the academic literature and analyzing others’ data because their own is incomplete.

For a few students like Mayer, the shutdown means their work matters far more than it would have in normal circumstances.

Mayer’s plan for an emergency dispensing site dovetails with the city’s plan to distribute emergency supplies to Lowell residents at a central location. The idea is to make sure that UML students and others who have to remain on campus during an emergency can access the same supplies in the same location, even though they’re not listed as Lowell residents.

Mayer can finish most of her plan online, but meetings with Lowell public health officials have been postponed, she says.

The Honors College at UMass Lowell requires all seniors to hold a public presentation about their honors capstone project or thesis.

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