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06.25.20 – Daniels students tackle pandemic-related projects with funding from the U of T COVID-19 Student Engagement Award

An inflatable emergency tent, a music video, an email newsletter: these are just a few of the projects that Daniels Faculty students will be producing this summer with funding from the U of T COVID-19 Student Engagement Award.

The award, for which only University of Toronto students were eligible to apply, consists of a grant of up to $3,000. To qualify for the money, students had to make a project proposal that related, in some way, to building global community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 14 Daniels students, as members of seven different project groups, made successful proposals and received the award. They'll have until early September to deliver their final work.

Here's a brief look at what they're doing.

Inflatable tents

Yi Zhang and Siqi Wang, a pair of Master of Architecture students, are using their award to develop an inflatable tent for use in pandemics and other emergency situations. By eschewing metal components, they were able to design a shelter so compact and lightweight that it can be transported in a backpack, with room to spare for the requisite air pump.

The pair plan to spend the next few months refining their design. By mid-August, they hope to be at a point where they can enlist the help of a factory in China (where Yi will be spending the next semester) in producing a full-scale, functional prototype.

Collapsible tents

Mina Yip and Meimenat Cheng graduated from the Daniels Faculty's undergraduate architecture program earlier this year. This summer, as they get ready to return to Daniels in the fall to begin their Master of Architecture studies, they'll be using their COVID-19 Student Engagement Award to develop a design for a portable emergency shelter. Their project, titled "Stitch," will consist of a dome-shaped tent that collapses down into a portable package.

"We researched previous pandemics, such as SARS," Meimenat says. "We found out that accessible housing isn't really available to people. Shelters tend to close down because they can't provide social distancing measures. We wanted to help people who are in need."

A collection of student drawings

MArch students Jana Nitschke and Valerie Marshall have come up with a generous use for their Student Engagement Award money: they're giving some of it to other Daniels students, in the form of payments for contributions to Interiors of Isolation, a digital book of reflections on the experience of living through social distancing as a design student.

Jana and Valerie have already issued a call for submissions on their project's Instagram account. They're asking Daniels students who are interested in contributing to the book to submit drawings of their home workspaces and one-paragraph explanations of how they've been using those workspaces during the pandemic. Each student whose submission is used in the book will receive a payment of $40, and Jana and Valerie will also be giving a $100 prize to the creator of whichever submission they deem "most exceptional."

An artistic "notebook"

Undergraduate architecture student Sherry Liu is collaborating with Shihan Yang, a first-year psychology student, on a project titled "We Are Together 2020." The pair will soon put out a global call for contributions — both visual art and written pieces — that reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic in an uplifting way. They plan to compile the best submissions into a printed "notebook," which they'll then sell online. They'll donate the proceeds to COVID-19 research.

"If we can create a platform for people to share their stories, then that would be a source of collective memory for the entire global community," Sherry says.

A music video

Sadi Wali, an undergraduate architecture student, is working with Isfandyar Virani, a machine learning and data mining student, on an art project that they say will help people "improve their lives by leaving unhealthy behaviours and inequities behind in quarantine when they move forward to the new world."

Working with SExT, a theatre-based sex-education organization founded by Shira Taylor, an alumna of the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, they'll develop a series of graphics and an educational music video.

A newsletter

Undergraduate architecture student Samiha Tahsin is part of an ambitious effort to launch an online publication that will provide reliable COVID-19 news updates in a magazine-like format. The newsletter is still in development — but the project group has begun posting updates on an Instagram account.

A total of 10 different students from various disciplines are working on different aspects of the project, and the group is receiving advice and mentorship from two physicians: Jeremy Kamil, of Louisiana State University, and Roizar Rozales, of Toronto's University Health Network. (Samiha will be working on the newsletter's design.)

A mystery design intervention

Five Daniels students — Aisling Beers, Declan Roberts, Gemma Robinson, Jay Potts, and Sheetza McGarry, as well as an engineering student, Savanna Blade — have formed a group they call Studio Babble. Using their award money, they're going to spend the summer developing a yet-to-be-determined design intervention that will ameliorate some of the effects of the pandemic on the Toronto community.

Their project will include a "creatively distanced" community gathering. And the group effort will culminate in the creation of a digital publication, with diagrams and findings.

Top image: A rendering of Yi Zhang and Siqi Wang's inflatable shelter design.