Dear UCLA Samueli Friends:
The events over the last few weeks have fundamentally impacted all of our lives. Every day brings news of the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic that compels us to adapt quickly to the new reality in which we live. At times, I know it must feel hard to grasp the extent to which the coronavirus has affected us, our way of life and how we interact with one another at home and in our community.
It is under such dire circumstances, however, that I have come to truly appreciate just how resilient, compassionate and giving our students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni are. Since UCLA transitioned to remote instruction a little more than two weeks ago, our faculty members have worked tirelessly with their TAs and students to ensure academic continuity by developing easily accessible lectures, review sessions and final exams. Despite the hectic schedule, our students handled themselves with remarkable poise and maturity.
The UCLA Samueli COVID-19 task force, which includes the school’s senior leadership team, has been meeting frequently to address the academic and operational needs of our school. Following the statewide “Safer at Home” directive, the campus has suspended all non-essential operations. During this time, campus will operate with minimum staffing to support essential services including health care, emergency responders, essential research and other core functions. School-wide, we have effectively ramped down lab activities while maintaining essential research integrity and remote school operation.
While the students returned home safely for spring break, our faculty members quickly put their ingenuity to work, collaborating with colleagues throughout our school, UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine to produce personal protective equipment (PPE). Bioengineering professor Jacob Schmidt has led the effort to manufacture surgical face shields at the UCLA Innovation Lab — the “makerspace” on the first and second floor of Boelter Hall. Using 3D-printing machines and robotic laser-cutting techniques, Schmidt, along with Doug Daniels, director of the Lux Labs at the UCLA Library, have already distributed 500 face shields for testing and use at the UCLA Medical Center and other local hospitals. A newly designed prototype will expedite production from 100 a day to more than 1000 shields, ready to be assembled at the School of Medicine before deployment to the health care workers fighting to treat COVID-19 patients at the front lines. The team is part of a collective effort across the UCLA campus, with our faculty and graduate students alongside industry partners, busy making other PPE prototypes, including N95 masks, compact ventilators and powered air purifying respirators (PAPR).
Last Thursday, we also held our first undergraduate virtual town hall so we could listen to our students, get their feedback and share our plans for the spring quarter. All of our department chairs, leadership from the Office of Academic and Student Affairs and counselors from the UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services joined me as we answered students’ questions and exchanged useful information by conducting live polls on pressing matters such as their desire for both a virtual and an in-person commencement.
As I sit in my home office reflecting on the incredible progress we’ve made in such a short time, I could not have felt more proud of the rapid response from our entire UCLA community. As problem solvers at heart, we came together applying our collective knowledge to address critical issues at hand. We are getting ready to welcome our students back for spring quarter this week and to help them thrive in remote learning; we are actively working with our colleagues in various research groups within our school and across UCLA campus to develop medical supplies at this critical moment. This is our charge and the reason why we became engineers.
I hope I can count on your continued advice and support as we weather this unprecedented storm. In order to help support the important work of UCLA Samueli faculty in COVID-19 relief efforts, we hope you will consider a gift to the school’s Problem Solvers Fund. Your generosity can help provide much needed supplies and equipment for our courageous health care workers who risk their lives daily to protect the public.
While we may be separated by distance, we remain closely connected with a shared mission and commitment to rise to the challenge. Together, I am confident we can turn the tide and find a solution to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and restore the health of our community. On behalf of UCLA Samueli, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your unwavering partnership and friendship. Please be well and stay in touch.
Jayathi Y. Murthy
Ronald and Valerie Sugar Dean