Tufts students engage in civic projects through Tisch Student COVID Response Program

West Hall is pictured reflected on the door to Tisch College at Barnum Hall on Feb. 21. Patrick Milewski / The Tufts Daily

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life has continued its educational mission of civic engagement through the establishment of the Tisch Student COVID Response (TSCR) Program.

The TSCR provides funding to students who wish to engage in self-designed or existing projects that address the impacts of COVID-19 on various communities.

Alex Lein, the student coordinator for the TSCR, proposed the idea for the program to administrators at Tisch College in mid-March following the suspension of in-person classes. 

“The idea was to allow students to pursue projects of their own choosing that took a unique angle at addressing COVID in some capacity in their local community or community of choice,” Lein said. “This was a really unique opportunity for Tufts to support its students in doing work that is more community-based and isn’t as focused on the Tufts community but rather the communities that our students come from.”

Lein, a rising senior, had been an active participant in programs provided by Tisch College. In light of the pandemic, he wanted to use the platform Tisch has to empower students eager to support their own communities through the pandemic.

By focusing on communities outside of Tufts, the TSCR serves as both a program for pandemic response and an opportunity to tackle social inequalities that existed prior to the pandemic. In response to recent civil unrest and global advocacy concerning racial injustice and following the death of George Floyd on May 25 and the protests that followed, Lein said that Tisch College will establish a more targeted stream of funding to support programs that address racial issues.

“For me especially, [the TSCR grant] was a thought exercise in acknowledging how the pandemic has exacerbated so many existing inequalities and how it takes a disproportionate toll on people and students who were already marginalized,” Lein said.

Lein said he is impressed by and proud of the range of issues students were working on, mentioning that students from every school at Tufts have applied for funds. He said that the program was conceived to support a diverse range of initiatives, reflecting a combination of students’ individual passions as well as what was needed in their communities.

“The entire inception of this grant was embedded in the purpose of making it as flexible as possible for students, in acknowledging the fact that so many people’s lives have been upended as well as how many things our students can be doing right now to be civically engaged in a variety of ways,” Lein said.

Projects currently funded by the TSCR span across the globe and pursue wide-ranging initiatives, including mask-making, clinical work in a foreign country and art-based projects such as podcasts and websites.

Ned Carlson, a rising second-year Tufts-SMFA combined-degree student, is using the funding he received from the TSCR to create an online art gallery called Boxed Art Gallery. Noting a lack of a professional platform in which art students at Tufts can exhibit their art prior to the pandemic, the gallery is intended to create a space for the Tufts community to display and view art created during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Boxed is the first time Tufts has given those interested in the arts within the University an accessible platform to display their art,” Carlson wrote in an email to the Daily. “In a time where police brutality, systemic racial oppression, and other crucial issues have come to the forefront of the national discussion, I feel that a platform to share artwork such as the Boxed Art Gallery is important now more than ever.”

Haya Raef, a rising fourth-year student at the School of Medicine, is working with Dr. Jennifer Tan, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, to create skin care kits for health care workers. Raef believes that the kits will help lower the number of health care workers that experience skin damage from personal protective equipment and improve the dermatological health of health care workers.

“We hope to address these skin concerns by supplying health care workers with skin care kits that may help prevent or alleviate skin irritation,” Raef wrote in an email to the Daily.

Beyond the United States, students at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy are using the TSCR platform to advance projects in their home countries. 

Seth Owusu-Mante Jr., a rising second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy candidate at The Fletcher School, is the founding president of the Young Diplomats of Ghana (YDG), a platform that trains aspiring global leaders in Ghana.

The YDG recently launched a COVID-19 education campaign, in which delegates of the organization translate information about COVID-19 in Ghana’s local languages to improve the spread of accurate information.

The YDG has created videos in nine Ghanaian local languages, including Akan, Ga and Ewe, in addition to English and French. The videos emphasize the importance of hand-washing, sanitization and social distancing. They are set to be released soon and will be distributed to local churches and communities that large portions of the population have access to.

Owusu-Mante hopes the organization can launch a fundraiser for personal protective equipment that will aid hospitals, as well as the general public.

Chima Omike, a rising second-year in the Master of International Business program at The Fletcher School, works with Children That Change The World (CTCTW), an education-focused non-profit based in Ogbomoso, Nigeria. One of the chief initiatives of CTCTW is the CTCTW Academy, an online platform which has been facilitating remote learning for secondary school students following the closure of schools in Nigeria due to COVID-19.

Omike explained that the CTCTW Academy tackles two major issues in the Nigerian education system: inequity and an underdeveloped curriculum. He hopes that the Academy, which is a free platform, can help level the playing field for students as well as grant them access to a more innovative curriculum.

“Our platform attempts to provide learning opportunities for students irrespective of the financial status of their families,” Omike wrote in a document shared with the Daily.

Omike hopes that CTCTW, beyond providing an opportunity to continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, can help improve the Nigerian curriculum in general.

“Nigeria’s secondary school curriculum is still evolving and needs crucial interventions to become effective,” Omike said. “CTCTW Academy offers a new kind of academic curriculum that allows students to embrace new learning areas such as: financial intelligence, creative thinking and problem solving modules and animations/gamifications to improve their overall learning experience.”

Omike decided to apply for the TSCR grant after hearing positive feedback for the work he was already doing with CTCTW. He has used the grant to build a new web platform that reaches students in more locations both within and outside of Ogbomoso.

“Our project vision is to decentralize secondary school education in such a way that every secondary student in Nigeria can enjoy the full benefits of free, high quality education,” Omike said.