Reframing Uncertainty with the Launch of the Student Emergency Fund

The GSD community comes together during COVID-19

As COVID-19 brought surging illness, uncertainty, and fear to the U.S. in spring 2020, Harvard implemented a series of unprecedented measures to protect the school community. Those necessary measures had significant impacts—emotional strain, travel issues, and housing concerns—on our students. With the launch of the Student Emergency Fund, the GSD took swift action to offer comfort, care, and opportunity amid the fear, emergencies, and job losses.

The Fund provided financial assistance to students enrolled in the GSD who found themselves experiencing immediate hardships related to unforeseen circumstances. Contributions were applied to anything regarding GSD students and their immediate needs—financially, mentally, or materially—due to COVID-19.

This was an opportunity, as a GSD family, to wrap our arms around our current students and take a specific action in the unprecedented moment of a global pandemic.

Peggy Burns Associate Dean for Development and Alumni Relations

“This was an opportunity, as a GSD family, to wrap our arms around our current students and take a specific action in the unprecedented moment of a global pandemic,” says Peggy Burns, Associate Dean for Development and Alumni Relations. “SEF highlights that the GSD is very much a community: alumni taking action to help support students, with our own faculty among those alumni who have so generously offered various forms of support.”

The school’s community of alumni and friends donated directly to the SEF and responded with enthusiasm to requests for increased internship opportunities for GSD students. In particular, the Student Emergency Fund was a critical source for students who had dramatic changes in their summer and post-GSD plans. The GSD offered research grants for students to partner with faculty and created other opportunities that allowed GSD students to imagine design solutions in the post-COVID-19 world. Students explored a number of future coworking spaces, how to adapt Hawaii’s public restrooms, a reimagined design of online spaces, and more. To read more about a few of these incredible research projects, click the links below:

Francisco Brown MDes’20 is examining the opportunities and challenges co-working spaces are facing as more businesses shift to remote-work arrangements.

Emma Ogiemwanye MUP ’20 is examining how the profit-focused logics of social media can be subverted for generative and liberatory purposes.

Kaoru Lovett MArch ’20 is examining public health and sanitation through Hawaii’s unique public restrooms known as “comfort stations.”

Adriana David Ortiz Monasterio MDes’21 is examining the changes in food systems and networks in Mexico City, particularly food instability, before, during, and after a pandemic condition.

Nicolás Delgado Álcega MArch ’20 is building on research undertaken in previous coursework to develop feasible interventions for disinvested rural communities in Central Italy, a country severely impacted by COVID-19.

Carolina Sepúlveda MDes ’20 expanded her thesis research into an in-progress design intervention creating a toolkit entitled the Sacred Women Oracle—a set of 30 cards and a 60-page guide—that informs migrant Latinas about their rights, offers advice on healing and self-care, and encourages them to seek educational programs, acquire new language skills, and be proactive about their legal immigration status.

Zarina Ateig’s MDes ’20 summer research aims to collect and maintain accurate geospatial and census data for Khartoum as a case study and the first step to help rebuild the country.

Thanks to the enormous generosity of the GSD community, the Student Emergency Fund raised enough funding to provide every student who applied with some level of emergency support. In addition to emergency aid, the GSD created 277 grants for independent research to supplement the summer work and learning opportunities that dissolved due to the economic downturn. All in all, a remarkable display of the power, care, and resolve present in the GSD’s worldwide design community.

Photo credits (top, left to right):
Francisco Brown MDes’20
Carolina Sepúlveda MDes ’20’s project Sacred Women Oracle
Emma Ogiemwanye MUP ’20
Zarina Ateig’s MDes ’20 collection of geospatial and census data for Khartoum
Adriana David Ortiz Monasterio MDes ’21 Cranberry Biology Analysis and comparison of the natural interactions of food systems
Kaoru Lovett MArch ’20’s Waialae Beach Park comfort station
Nicolás Delgado Álcega MArch ’20