Pitt Engineering Labs

As COVID-19 continues to impact Allegheny County, hospitals face shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies that they need to keep their personnel safe and prevent the further spread of disease. Rising to fill that need, faculty and staff at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering organized a substantial donation of supplies from their labs to UPMC’s Covid-19 Command Center so that it can keep fighting the spread of the virus uninterrupted.

As many research activities at the Swanson School were greatly reduced because of the pandemic, Carla Ng, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, contacted David Vorp, PhD, associate dean for research, to ask where her lab could donate their unused supplies. The idea quickly swelled into a School-wide mission.

“Like everyone, I had been hearing in the news about the dangerous shortage that the hospitals were incurring, and with the University ramping down its research operations, the thought of PPE and other critically-needed items sitting unused in our research labs was hard to bear,” said Vorp, who coordinated the initiative and contacted UPMC’s Clinical Laboratories with the idea. “Once I saw the excitement and happiness that the idea brought to the laboratory staff, I knew that we needed to respond in a big way, so I sent the request out to our faculty and tried to get the request out to a wider group with some success. In the end, I was blown away by the response of my Pitt colleagues. It truly was humanity at its finest. It was Pitt at its finest!”

Researchers from every department at the Swanson School contributed to the cause, as did researchers from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine. When it became clear that Vorp would not be able to deliver the supplies with a few trips in an SUV as planned, the Pitt Movers were able to provide a truck.

“I had a strong sense of pride and satisfaction seeing that big blue moving truck, with the gold Pitt script and panther head on the side and full of much-needed supplies, pull out of the loading dock of Benedum Hall bound for our friends at UPMC,” Vorp said.

The deliveries included pallets stacked with an assortment of sterile and non-sterile gloves, masks (including the much-needed N95 masks that protect against the virus), peroxide, alcohol, HEPA-based air filter unites, sanitizers and eye protection. Götz Veser, PhD, professor of chemical engineering, even offered to make hand sanitizer. In all, five pallets of supplies were delivered by Pitt faculty and staff to the UPMC Warehouse on the South Side, who distributed it to facilities in need.

“UPMC has so many points of service, all important and all in need of supplies. Every single mask is being used, nothing is being wasted,” said Melissa Matta, Category and Operations Manager at UPMC, who coordinated with Vorp to receive the donations. “We are so surprised by the community’s outpouring of support. Every time I pick up supplies, people say to me, ‘Take care,’ ‘I’m praying for you,’ or ‘Stay safe.’ It put faith back into humanity for us.”

“As engineers, we are obsessed with creating solutions that contribute to improving the human condition,” said James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. “The Pitt community showed that their inspiration and generosity were as strong as ever during this trying and uncertain time, an inspiring example of our community’s strength and humanity in the face of adversity.”