For USC Viterbi student MacKenzie McClung, being busy is the norm. Last semester, while handling a full course load, the computer science and business administration senior served as captain of USC’s Spirit Leader squad and co-director of the USC Annenberg Women’s Leadership Society.
So, when the coronavirus outbreak forced her to swap the sidelines of the Trojan football games for her family home in Jacksonville, Florida, she didn’t hesitate to spring into action to help local hospital workers.
Working from a laptop in her bedroom, McClung is reaching out to local universities and art museums to procure vital protective equipment—including gloves and masks and sanitary gowns— for local hospitals.
Since spring break, she has collected thousands of medical supplies and organized dozens of donation drop-offs for local healthcare providers in need. She is also working with 3D-printing manufacturers to design low-cost, viable parts for ventilators.
“I’m a problem solver by nature and right now the problem is protecting those who are saving us,” said McClung.
“I’m a problem solver by nature and right now the problem is protecting those who are saving us.” MacKenzie McClung.
“At first, I didn’t think this was engineering at all, in the sense that I wasn’t doing anything with formulas or algorithms. But then I saw it was about problem solving and optimizing processes. It’s a great way to look at how engineering can start with small things, like a simple email.”
Helping the community
In fact, her efforts did begin with a simple email. McClung, whose father is a healthcare administrator, first decided to help when she saw the widespread shortages of crucial personal protective equipment across the country.
So, she reached out to universities and art museums and asked them if they had equipment to donate. Within 24 hours she had dozens of emails in her inbox. Once she has the donations procured, she coordinated getting these to the right people at local hospitals.
Phil Gaby, director of strategic sourcing at Baptist Health, has received an estimated 10-15,000 pieces of equipment gathered by McKenzie’s efforts.Every few days, said Gaby, he receives an emails from local businesses, who mention MacKenzie’s name and say they want to help out.
“The equipment MacKenzie gathered is out there now, being used by frontline staff and patients,” said Gaby.
“She really grabbed the bull by the horns and basically set up her own little sourcing business. I really appreciate that she wanted to help our community and put forth the time to make an impact. We’re very grateful for that.”
MacKenzie has since been thinking about other creative ways of coming up with supplies and one of those is 3D printing. She recently linked up with a USC Viterbi School of Engineering alumnus who works for a 3D printing company in Portland printing face shields and N95 masks. She hopes to transport some of these to the health system in Florida.
In addition to taking four courses remotely, during quarantine, she is also brushing up on programming languages and techniques using CodeAcademy and preparing for technical interviews this summer. While she’s not sure what she wants to do after graduation, she is particularly interested in fighting algorithmic bias.
“This crisis has really shown me what I’ve learned at USC, and that’s about taking the problem and looking at how an engineer can solve it and then looking at the business side of it—how institutions can work together,” said McClung. “And because of my education, I’m also looking at it from an empathetic perspective: ultimately, it’s about people, not just numbers or money.”