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Buck wears a mask and kneels next to gurney inside ambulance.

Students take action by volunteering, working in labs, providing protective masks

The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant challenges to Virginia Tech, but it also highlighted the resilience, strength, and ingenuity of the Hokie community. In these unprecedented times, students continue to embody the spirit of Ut Prosim by serving and supporting their communities. Here, we highlight three such students.

Cameron Buck

Cameron Buck, a senior from Richmond, Virginia, has been volunteering in emergency medicine since his senior year of high school, after receiving his EMT certification. He’s been a member of Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad since 2017, his freshman year. He also volunteers back home with the Forest View Volunteer Rescue Squad, just southwest of Richmond, Virginia.

In July, he left for McAllen, Texas, following a call by area regional medical officials. Buck traveled with his father, an ER nurse who works at a Richmond hospital. Buck was assigned to a COVID ICU ward. His father is volunteering in an ER.

“It’s been crazy here [in Texas]. People are very sick, sicker than I had previously seen in Virginia. It doesn’t seem like people take wearing a mask as seriously as it should be and I guess that’s what we are seeing with increased numbers now. This has truly been a humbling experience so far.”

Cameron Buck

Buck is a senior majoring in systems biology, part of the Academy of Integrated Science. His father inspired him to volunteer as a medic. “I wanted to experience a little bit of emergency medicine for myself,” he added.

His efforts in Blacksburg and Forest View, attending to 911 calls for accidents, medical assistance, and injuries, and working directly with COVID patients in Texas has cemented Buck’s career choice of medicine.

Buck wears a mask and stands in front of ambulance.
Cameron Buck.

Carolyn Pollock

Carolyn Pollock is working as a laboratory technician and scribe in Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 testing laboratory at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. She landed the job a week before graduating with a degree in clinical neuroscience from the School of Neuroscience in May 2020.

Pollock began her position about a week before graduation, after working as a research technician under Post-doctoral Associate Robyn Umans since January 2019.

“As soon as I heard about the project, I wanted to be involved,” she said. “I’ve grown to really love the lab and the people in it, and wanted to help meet the need of COVID-19 tests in this part of Virginia. It was a no-brainer.”

Pollock’s daily tasks include logging patient identification through every step of the testing process, so that no information becomes lost or switched. Pollock also communicates with other local health departments to make sure patients receive their results as quickly as possible. Her role is crucial in ensuring and double-checking accurate data.

She also creates the tubes that house the coronavirus testing swabs after they are administered to patients. The tubes are designed to keep the virus alive on the swab long enough to pass through every step of the testing method.

“I make 300 tubes every day, but we are planning to scale up to 400 to meet the rising demand,” she said in June. Pollock hopes that increasing access to tests will create more accurate data surrounding the spread and management of the virus in Montgomery County.

Professor Harald Sontheimer, who runs the testing lab out of his Center for Glial Biology in Health, Disease, and Cancer, said of Pollock: [Her job] “requires a person with meticulous attention to detail as people’s lives potentially depend on accurate diagnosis. Carolyn had already proven herself during her time as a research volunteer in the Sontheimer lab as a reliable scientist with great attention to detail.”

Pollock will stay on the job until fall 2021, when she plans to go to medical school.

Pollack wears goggles, mask, and lab coat while standing, looking through self with lab supplies.
Carolyn Pollock.

Jake Lavitt

Jake Lavitt, a junior in Computational Modeling and Data Analytics, did his part in the fight against COVID-19 as co-founder of America’s Masks, a sewing company based in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. He and his brother, Brandon, started the company to help provide personal protective equipment to those in need during the pandemic.

“We saw the need for masks in the U.S., and given that our family has been in the hosiery business for over 100 years, we had the connections for large scale manufacturing,” he said.

Finding masks can be difficult when they are in such high demand, and they are often overpriced or on back order, Lavitt said. America’s Masks was created to offer affordable equipment in a timely manner to those who need it. The masks are made from a soft cotton blend on sock knitting machines in Fort Payne, Alabama. This manufacturing center is used by Bur-Tex Hosiery, to which Lavitt’s family is connected.

America’s Masks pledged to donate one mask to a homeless shelter for every order placed. The company partners with the Urban Ministries Center and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, which provide housing, food, and resources to underserved populations in the area. Customers can also choose to donate to a homeless shelter or organization close to them.

“During a time when unemployment is at a peak, and the country is on edge, donating to keep people safe is the least we can do,” Lavitt said.

Lavitt has created a social media presence for the company through a webpage and Instagram profile. These forums were designed to not only promote his product, but to create more awareness about personal protective equipment, and why it is important to wear. Lavitt hopes he can use comfort and style to help flatten the curve and encourage others to take COVID-19 seriously.

man stands holding a box of supplies wearing a black mask. Stacks of boxes are in the background.
Jake Lavitt.

For an updated story on Cameron Buck, visit: Hokie helps in a hot spot