During social distancing, UD Mom helps grad student community stay strong and safe

Empathic Peers Offering Wisdom, Encouragement, and Resources (EmPOWER) is a College of Engineering initiative to promote mental health and wellness among engineering graduate students.

During a pandemic, this mission is more important than ever. 

With on-campus events like board game nights and personal development workshops postponed or switched to virtual offerings, the EmPOWER Steering Committee opted for a new way to make students feel connected: sending care packages to College of Engineering graduate students. 

To do this, the group sent a survey to assess student needs. When Olivia George, a graduate student in materials science and engineering and chair of EmPOWER, read the survey results, she noticed many requests for homemade face masks. 

“We wanted students to feel safe, like they had supplies to manage during the pandemic, but I have minimal experience with sewing,” said Olivia. Olivia’s mother, Nancy George—who lives in Texas—offered to help. She volunteered to make masks, which wasn’t an easy task. Local craft stores and even online suppliers were sold out of fabric and of elastic for ear bands.  Mrs. George searched for and found an alternative mask design using old T-shirts to craft ear bands, and cobbled together scraps of fabric from other projects. After all the surveys were in, she set out to make a Herculean 145 masks. She completed this in less than two weeks and shipped them to Delaware.

Then Olivia and Rebekah Houser, an EmPOWER lead mentor and graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, donned personal protective gear and assembled and mailed the care packages for College of Engineering graduate students.

“It’s inspiring to see how communities can come together, and people with differing skill sets can pitch in, in times of need,” said Olivia. “I think what my mom did is truly momentous and will be appreciated by students for many months to come. I’m glad that our steering committee could help in this way.”

The care packages included school supplies, snacks, notes of well wishes, stickers, and face masks with printed instructions for cleaning and maintenance.