Clarkson University Turns to Technology to Stem Spread of COVID-19

This fall, Clarkson University in New York State was faced with a daunting task – safely bringing more than 3,000 students back to its main campus for both in-person and online classes. To keep students safe and learning, the school turned to technology.

Clarkson turned to its Office of Information Technology (OIT) and engineers from its Center for Air and Aquatic Resources, Engineering Science (CARES).

OIT staff worked quickly to implement new technology into existing classrooms and to create new classrooms in non-traditional spaces like dining halls and larger multipurpose areas that could accommodate social distancing requirements.

“Our teams touched a total of 88 classrooms to ensure that every space is now equipped with a pen-touch display, webcam, microphone, and full lecture capture capabilities,” says CIO Joshua Fiske. “Additionally, for faculty who are teaching online, we created a loaner pool of technology, which includes 100 pen-touch enabled 2-in-1 laptops, 50 standalone webcams, and 50 high-quality headphones and microphones.”

In addition to new tech, the university has issued a mask mandate, set up classrooms to ensure social distancing is followed, and provided hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes in every classroom.

Despite beginning to overhaul the classrooms well before the first day of fall classes, Fiske said there were a few initial hiccups, but faculty and students quickly found their groove.

“We’re seven weeks into our online and in-person classes, and using Zoom technology is now second nature to our Clarkson community — just as it is now for many families and business people,” he said. “Hopefully, our careful preparation has paid off in safer yet still engaging classes for our students.”

While OIT was busy overhauling classrooms, university engineers focused on ensuring classrooms had the proper ventilation to lessen the chance of spreading the virus.

“For the COVID-19 pandemic scenario, our focus was on knowing that any particles in the air could be evacuated quickly, so as to prevent cross-contamination between occupants,” said Suresh Dhaniyala, the Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor and co-director of CARES. “We evaluated our classroom air exchange rates using an aerosol injection system with particles of 500 nanometers to 5 microns, the same size as particles that escape from face masks and are responsible for airborne disease transmission.”

Dhaniyala’s team injected particles into each classroom and used sensors placed throughout the room to study decay times.

“We shared a few problem areas with University Engineer Michael Tremper, who was able to quickly adjust the ventilation systems in those spaces by using innovative engineering solutions,” said Dhaniyala.

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs