Beam of light: Chinese American Students in New Haven County

Yankee Institute is proud to present “Beam of Light” — A dedicated place to lift spirits by illuminating the many acts of quiet heroism, generosity, individual initiative and kindness that are happening every day across Connecticut during the coronavirus crisis.  

To share your “Beam of Light” story, please email Jordanne at jordanne@yankeeinstitute.org


Submission written by Kevin Lu, Amity High School, Woodbridge, CT 

Woodbridge residents William Wang, an undergraduate student majoring in biomedical computation, and his father Frank Wang have designed a face shield for medical workers and organized volunteers from the local Chinese American community to create. Despite severe shortage of materials and critical delays in shipment, a concerted effort by the community enabled the creation of a design utilizing ingenuous materials to replace those normally needed in face shields. Hairbands and pins from local beauty stores served to secure the shield to the head; anti-fog spray for car windows was pretreated across the shield to prevent misting during usage; the distance of the foam to the edge of the plastic board was meticulously tested to ensure the shield would bend correctly under strain. A myriad of technical challenges regarding the utility and effectiveness of the design were painstakingly addressed through such methods of trial and error. Additionally, the Wangs built their own cutting board in their basement to cut the plastic board and foam board to shape, providing step-by-step drawings and instructions for general assembly and production.  

Volunteers have since followed the lead of the father-son duo, replicating their designs and methodology in creating more face shields for the medical community. Many ordinary citizens began to group themselves into doing different tasks, some sewing with sewing machines, some with their hands, others cutting foam or crafting and labeling shields. Much of this arduous work was accomplished by the dozens of student volunteers who willingly took up the task of manufacturing the face shields, in spite of the recent reopening of schools across the state. In order to support this effort, a large-scale logistical network was created; makeshift materials were distributed, hospitals were contacted, advertisements for donations to frontline medical staff were put up, and delivery and pickups were arranged and logged. In a matter of days, the Asian-American community had created both a powerful pseudo-movement and a miraculous mini-enterprise, complete with its own army of volunteers, infrastructure, and PR elements.   

Already 500 face shields have been produced within the span of one week, and many more are listed for production in the near future. All this was achieved by a group of people, trapped at home, with no previous expertise or proper materials or employer mandate compelling them to work. Using only their creativity and ingenuity, and driven simply by common need and empathy, a handful of people created a grand movement with a small, but critical, impact.  Dr. Wang and William may have appeared peripherally as just the kind neighbor and sedulous student, but they became the natural leaders of a wider endeavor in the midst of this crisis. The overall actions of all involved are also commendable; every volunteer has a job, big or small, and every person was, and still is, part of a community and an effort.  

I write this because it is evidently important to recognize the contribution of each and every volunteer to their communities, whether it be for efforts such as the one started by the Wangs or the hundreds of other movements that have sprung up around the country. Equally, though, it is vital to recognize the miracle that is human empathy and what feats of engineering and creativity we can achieve when it is sparked during times of collective crisis and common need. Even as the worst of the storm looms over us, the best of ourselves can still shine in us. Together, any objective is possible; any purpose is feasible; any crisis is beatable. It only takes a few of us to demonstrate that fact to all of us. 

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