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Leading in crisis
Faculty from the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences provided medical response training to members of the Florida National Guard.

Leading in crisis

FIU rises to the challenges of a global pandemic

May 13, 2020 at 12:00am


In the months since a global health threat began to alter lives around the world, FIU has demonstrated its ability to quickly and efficiently mobilize people and resources for the common good. The university has embraced its status as a solutions center for the region and beyond to answer the call of an unprecedented moment.

During the second week of March, FIU successfully transitioned nearly 5,000 courses to a fully remote platform to continue the education of students. As they and faculty adjusted to the new normal—bolstered by comprehensive support that has addressed, among other things, mental health concerns associated with fear and stress—the university family has moved forward in compassionate and innovative ways. It immediately sought to reinforce the financial wellbeing of its students, many of whom lost jobs. And it has relied on its strength as a national research institution committed to the community in which it resides to attack problems and lead collaborative efforts backed by expertise.

“The situation calls upon each of us to reinvent our better selves every day,” President Mark B. Rosenberg told employees during an open forum with employees.

And examples of just such rising to the occassion abound as faculty, staff, students and alumni rush to the fore: FIU Art Museum staff have delivered art supplies to children in need; FIU students are tutoring local youngsters via Zoom for free; and a professor in the School of Computing and Information Sciences has created a tool to help predict the number of COVID-19 cases using data analytics.

These are but a few of the many stories making headlines. Read on for more.

Supporting businesses on the brink 
The Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management is helping to put money into the hands of cooks, servers, dishwashers and others who work at South Florida’s vulnerable restaurants and bars. The SOBEWFF & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund provides immediate financial support to independently owned and operated establishments impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Many have a history of hiring FIU student interns and even given graduates their first jobs. Now the school is giving back.

The fund was launched with $1 million, including a founding donation of $500,000 by the Chaplin School, taken from the proceeds given yearly for operations and scholarships by The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One. An ongoing Sunday fundraising event sells baked goods for the cause and, along with several large donations, helps to bring in tens of thousands of dollars weekly in additional funding.

The Florida SBDC at FIU Busines, the small business development center at FIU’s College of Business, is providing much-needed assistance to local companies dealing with a devastating loss of revenue amid the pandemic. The center has helped local businesses obtain several million dollars in Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loans.

While there are a number of federal, state and local resources available, confusion about processes and eligibility are making it harder for business owners who need to access these programs. Knowing where to go, and what program is the best fit for each business, is one of the toughest parts. Consultants at the FSBDC guide applicants to the best resource for them, explain the eligibility criteria, assist with applications, walk them through the review process and help get funds into the business’ hands.

“Everything from small, two-person nail salons to multimillion-dollar construction businesses are feeling the severe impact of this disaster,” said Brian Van Hook, regional director of the FSBDC, which provides no-cost consulting to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.  The continuing uncertainty make it nearly impossible for businesses to plan ahead without financial backing. “These funds can help them keep or bring back employees, cover debts, and address other fixed operating expenses.”

Supporting frontline workers
The College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts
has 3D printed thousands of face shields for health care workers and first responders. The first batch was produced in March for Baptist Health after architecture students working from home modified an open-source design for the protective gear. More than 30 3D printers housed in the college’s Innovation Lab in the Miami Beach Urban Studios were put into action as well as additional printers in the college’s robotics lab and others in the College of Engineering & Computing and the Honors College. Another round of production was made possible with financial support from FIU President’s Council member Angela Martinez and FIU alumnus Raul Chavez ’80, with the shields earmarked for local fire-rescue departments.

The Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences trained some 70 physicians, nurses, combat medics and other health care personnel from the Florida National Guard to prepare the latter to operate a a 450-bed alternate care facility at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Twenty faculty members and staff from the College’s Nursing Practitioner and Nurse Anesthesia programs, the Simulation Teaching and Research Center and graduate nursing and doctor of physical therapy students provided demonstrations and hands-on training to set up patients on ventilators, respond to respiratory and cardiac distress, proper donning/removal of PPE (personal protective equipment) and more.

“FIU’s fundamental vision since it opened its doors has been to offer solutions that meet the needs of the community it serves,” said Helen Cornely, an associate dean. “It was an honor to collaborate with the Florida National Guard and to provide the expertise, resources, and skills to help practitioners provide quality care to our community during this difficult time.”

Directly supporting community health
Faculty and students of the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences, the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and the Robert Stemepel College of Public Health & Social Work have tested thousands of South Florida residents for COVID-19 at a drive-through site at Tamiami Park, adjacent to MMC. The operation is a large and synchronized team effort that runs seven days a week. Javier Valdez, a second-year medical student, says he jumped on the opportunity to volunteer. “It’s for the same reason that I chose to become a doctor, and why I chose FIU,” he says. “I saw this a service to the community and the FIU mission that I value.”

Dr. Aileen Marty of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine has served as a knowledgeable, reliable resource for local and national media looking to get clear explanations about the latest scientific findings related to COVID-19. The infectious disease expert, who worked with the World Health Organization on the Ebola outbreak, has answered calls from around the country and has served as a source to both English and Spanish media as she describes best practices and addresses new information about the disease. She featues in a series of FIU-produced videos that answer questions and explain to viewers how best to protect themselves.

Dr. Cheryl Holder of the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine is spearheading an effort to address the impact of COVID-19 on African Americans in Florida. She is the president of the Florida State Medical Association, a regional arm of the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest organization representing African American physicians and their patients in the United States. FSMA created a COVID-19 task force and enlisted, among others, FIU medical students to lobby the governor and state lawmakers for help. As a result, the Florida Division of Emergency Management sent a shipment of thousands of items of Personal Protection Equipment to be distributed to health care professionals serving the most vulnerable minorities around the state.

Students of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work assisted the Florida Department of Health’s earliest efforts as part of the official State of Florida response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Master’s student Victory Bryant worked as an epidemiology assistant by helping establish a monitoring unit to follow up on medium-risk individuals. In that role, she called residents for health checks, followed up on sensitive cases and conducted interviews with and provided recommendations for those who reported illness.

Conducing cutting-edge research 
Biomedical Sciences Institute
Director Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh and Associate Director Prem Chapagain have teamed up with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the National Cancer Institute to attempt to block a key enzyme in the human cell that the coranavirus needs to thrive. They are searching for potential treatment leads to reduce the spread of the virus in infected individuals. Currently there are no evidence-based treatments for COVID-19 or any other of the other related coronaviruses.

To find a drug that will inhibit the enzyme on which the researchers are focused, Tse-Dinh is looking first at pharmaceuticals that already have FDA approval for other uses. A drug that has successfully passed through the approval process to treat a different disease can more quickly be moved into human trials for testing of another application.

The Center for Children and Families is recruiting participants for an online study to understand how families are coping with the pandemic. “We are specifically interested in learning how different families are balancing work and childcare responsibilities, potential work disruptions and financial hardships, and new homeschooling activities,” said Professor Jonathan S. Comer, director of the Mental Health Interventions and Technology Program. “We hope that by learning how families are handling this public health crisis now, we can find effective ways to help identify the specific needs of families during this most difficult time, and understand overall coping during this pandemic.” 

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