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1 Amherst Street, Building E40 – 383
1 Amherst Street, Building E40 – 383
UNICEF image ©UNICEF/UNI197921/Schermbrucker

Like many others, I felt helpless at home because I do not possess the ability to create a solution for the COVID-19 pandemic. As we were preparing for final presentations and graduation, my life as a graduate student quickly changed. We suddenly moved to online classes and were encouraged to leave campus to social distance efficiently. Despite this time of rapid change, MIT’s entrepreneurial spirit has persisted. Our Supply Chain master’s program designed several opportunities for students to learn, from generating new COVID-19 lectures to connecting with companies solving complex supply chain problems caused by the pandemic.

UNICEF image ©UNICEF/UNI197921/Schermbrucker
Photo: ©UNICEF/UNI197921/Schermbrucker | Courtesy of UNICEF

Professor Jarrod Goentzel, Director of the MIT Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab, offered an opportunity for students to work with UNICEF’s Supply Division Product Innovation Centre, based in Copenhagen, Denmark, on a volunteer basis over spring break. The project involved developing a strategy and process to improve UNICEF’s oxygen optimization tool. In partnership with the World Health Organization, UNICEF distributes oxygen throughout the globe for several situations including serving children with pneumonia. Oxygen was already a crucial limited resource, but COVID-19 added complexity and demand to their intricate supply chain.

As a team, we assessed diverse technology solutions and created a back-end optimization roadmap for UNICEF. I enjoyed working with twelve students in my class to provide ideas for UNICEF so much that I decided to take this project on full-time during my last semester. Currently serving as the MIT program manager, I’m working with around 10 students to analyze, visualize, and optimize data to meet complex demand specifications. We are working together remotely as  team to explore options and I’m leading the data visualization portion of the project.


 All team members are extremely motivated by the ability to benefit those who need oxygen therapy. I love acting as the connection between my classmates, MIT staff members, and the UNICEF team. I facilitate communication to ensure product development enables simple decision making for oxygen distribution. I’m impressed at how much we have been able to accomplish in a short period of time through online meetings.

I’m in awe that MIT provided me the opportunity to enable efficient planning and procurement for oxygen therapy technologies. I’m excited to learn more about the global healthcare system from UNICEF humanitarian experts.  This experience has shown me how I can make a difference in the world using my supply chain education. It is extremely rewarding and motivating to generate a small solution while social distancing. During this time of uncertainty, I’m thankful for the chance to create my personal positive COVID-19 response.

Post Author: Elizabeth Raman Grubbs

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