In this era of face coverings, social distancing, and online learning, some Georgia Tech students have been motivated to assist with pandemic-related efforts. This includes Mihir Kandarpa, a second-year in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). Along with Amogh Gadekar, a first-year neuroscience major, Kandarpa serves on the executive board of The Covid Conversation (TCC), a Georgia-based organization that provides fact-based, nonpolitical information about Covid-19.
“Watching the pandemic unfold, I felt helpless about improving the situation, so I looked for a way to give back to the community while also advocating for change,” Kandarpa said. He discovered TCC through social media and was motivated to apply for the executive board because he resonated with the mission to raise awareness of the pandemic’s impact. TCC launched in two phases, first as an Instagram account in April 2020 and then as an organization with a full executive board in August. Now, they are working toward obtaining 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit.
Most of TCC’s executive board are college students at the University of Georgia. Together, the team appeals to their own demographic by using Instagram to spread crucial information and awareness of service activities. With over 2,000 followers, the @thecovidconversation Instagram account posts colorful – and more importantly – informative and accurate infographics. Some focus on reporting Covid-19 case numbers and news; others promote campaigns such as “Mask to School,” which encouraged safe behaviors while living on campus. They also post about ways to celebrate and enjoy holidays while still staying socially distanced.
Why does the organization want to raise awareness for Covid-19 specifically among their peers?
“We felt that Gen Z hadn’t been taking the pandemic seriously enough,” Kandarpa explained. “Gen Z isn't the only age group that faltered in how they treated the pandemic, but it's one that we could address the most easily.” Accordingly, TCC targets younger people who are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus by providing a convenient way to stay informed.
“Throughout the pandemic, I was disappointed with how there was a lot of false information going around,” Kandarpa said. “It's hard to find a common place where you can get all the information that you need in a way that's digestible.” Although he enjoys reading scientific articles and staying up-to-date with the news, he recognizes that most people do not have the time, and that’s where TCC is bridging the gap. Recently, they have posted infographics summarizing President Biden's 200-page Covid-19 response plan, as well as a comparison of the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines.
Kandarpa’s first role at TCC was director of Georgia outreach, in which he helped organize two fundraisers. The success of their first fundraiser was an exciting achievement: “I've never led such a large-scale effort before,” he said. “We met our goal of $150 within 30 minutes of opening [our fundraiser].” Almost $1000 was raised, enabling them to purchase 4000 masks for Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. A second fundraiser raised $450 for Bigger Vision, a homeless shelter in Athens.
With his current role as chief of staff, Kandarpa is interested in improving the organization’s operational efficiency as well as developing a long-term strategic plan as they work towards becoming a non-profit. He contributes his unique perspective and skills as an ISyE major to TCC’s multi-disciplinary team of students from majors such as biology, computer science, public policy, and finance. “It is interesting to see how all of us with diverse backgrounds have the same passion for public health, and it is fun to work with them,” he noted.
Since the beginning of his college career, Kandarpa has always sought ways to be involved with public health. At Georgia Tech, he serves as the chair of Health and Well-being for the Student Government Association and as the secretary of the Undergraduate Public Health Association. He also previously served as a student assistant for the Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems. These experiences have taught him about communication, organization, and leadership – important skills that prepared him for his roles at TCC. Furthermore, being connected with other student leaders on campus has allowed him to share infographics that TCC creates with a wider audience.
Kandarpa’s experience pushing these boundaries has solidified his desire to pursue a career in public health. He originally joined Georgia Tech as a pre-med neuroscience major but switched to ISyE in the middle of his first semester. Through talking to other ISyE majors, he has learned about the importance of industrial engineering in improving the efficiency of public health and is interested in shaping a more scientific approach to policy making.
“I want to be able to see how [modeling and simulation] can be better utilized when we make policy decisions on public health,” he said. “I want to use ISyE skills in shaping our global health policies, making sure that we're better prepared [for another pandemic].” This summer, he will be interning with the Strategic Planning Division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Further on in his career, he would like to pursue a master’s degree in public health.
For Kandarpa, what started out as a passion for public health plus a yearning to do more has turned into an organization that reaches thousands.
“The feeling that we are contributing to the betterment of not only the local community, but also the global community, is so rewarding in the time of the [Covid-19 pandemic],” Kandarpa said.
Shelley Wunder-Smith and ISyE Communications Assistant Taylor Hunter interviewed the student featured in this article; Communications Assistant Grace Oberst wrote the story.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering