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When Pandemic Hits, West Virginians Respond

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness." - Desmond Tutu

Even in areas less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, its reverberations have been felt. From broadband limitations to supply chain constraints, restrictedaccessibility, and unfamiliar ways of interfacing, in addition to the worries and concerns about the virus itself, few areas geographically, and lesser areas demographically, have been unscathed in some fashion. Crises force us to adaptin order to survive and sustain. Yet, it leads us to respond and prevail in ways we wouldn'thave otherwise done without the urgency pressing us to do so.

Certainly, challenges still linger and needs remain unaddressed. Nonetheless, it's been remarkable to witness West Virginians stepping up across the state in response.

Notably, our state's manufacturers have assertively responded during the COVID-19 crisis,transforming production lines and innovating business models to produce materials and supplies, donating to critical needs. Both DOW's Union Carbide subsidiary and Smooth Amblerhave adapted their processes to produce hand sanitizer. Employees at Braskem, the country's largest producer of polyolefins, lived at their Neal, WV, plant for 28 days to ensure their products were safe for N95 masks and surgical gowns. 4D Tech Solutions restructured to produce masks for the National Guard. Mylan, Clorox, and ND Paper have each donated funds and PPEfor response efforts. Nationally, manufacturers are doing the same, creating critical supplies to meet the everchanging impacts of COVID-19. Check out how more #CreatorsRespond across the country.

Educators and students have stepped up as well. Students from the Robert C. Byrd Institute, West Virginia Northern Community College, andCareer Technical Education schools across the state have produced masks, face shields, and other protective equipment for hospitals and nursing homes. Various educational institutions have also donated their inventory of personal protective equipment.

The Explore team has responded swiftly to provide resources and support for educators around the state. Recently, the annualWhat's So Cool About Manufacturing? Student Video Contest Awards Ceremonies were shifted to virtual events to ensure the participating students and educators were recognized. Additionally, two new online programshave been launched. The Explore Virtual Scavenger Hunt and the Assembly Line Challenge, in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education, are scheduledto air on West Virginia Public Broadcasting for teachers to use as part of their curriculum.

Once we emerge from this triage phase and the dust begins to settle, varying levels of normalcy will return.However, our greatest work lies ahead.It will take collaboration, innovation, and a progressive strategy to address these future needs. As students return to these vacatedhallways and classrooms, many will bring with them financial and emotional hardshipswhich present obstacles that are new to themor profoundly worse than before. Teachers working to close the learning gap while addressing the needs for wrap-aroundsupport will face steep challenges.

Admittedly, one outreach program cannot solve all the issues created by this pandemic. But its efforts can provide assurance to students that there is light at the end of this tunnel, with good job opportunities still available in West Virginia.The Explore team and its partners can provide validation that their skills and talents are valued by manufacturers and affirmation to continue working hard to develop them. It can stand ready to supporteducators grappling to find ways to help students navigate the new normal. The Explore Program's important outreach effortscan and will provide hope as we rise from the rubble and continue to build bridges between education and manufacturing across the state.

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