Covid-19 vaccines are now regularly, and freely available to college students in most areas of the U.S. Yet, Covid-19 testing remains expensive, despite being essential to providing a safe college campus. For Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which have limited financial resources, providing regular testing for students can be challenging. Testing is particularly important in the South, where most HBCUs are located, and where there is considerable vaccine hesitancy, and rising Covid-19 cases.
In order to quell the spread of Covid-19 and to support HBCUs in their efforts to keep students safe and on-campus this academic year, Thermo Fisher Scientific partnered with HBCUs to provide free Covid-19 testing. The initiative, titled The Just Project and named for African American scientist Ernest Everett Just, invests over $32 million in HBCUs. It focuses both on free Covid-19 testing and diversifying the Thermo Fisher work environment. Thermo Fisher previously donated 50,000 Covid-19 test kits to 60 HBCUs in 2020; among these colleges the Covid-19 infection rates were below 1%.
According to Fred Lowery, president for customer channels at Thermo Fisher, “It became quite clear in the early days of the pandemic that communities of color were being hit the hardest. In higher education, we also saw HBCUs, many of which are clustered in states that emerged as hot spots, face a decrease in enrollment numbers and lack of funding for Covid-19 testing. We knew that easy access to free testing could be a game-changer for these schools, and given Thermo Fisher’s outsized role in the fight against the pandemic since the very beginning, we had an opportunity and responsibility to step up.” He added, “I also saw the need for testing through the eyes of a parent, thinking about what it would take for me to feel comfortable sending my son back to campus.”
The Just Project has the capacity to provide free testing at all 105 of the nation’s HBCUs. Lowery is hoping that other HBCUs will join the program as Thermo Fisher extends it through the 2021-2022 academic year. Currently, eight on-campus labs serve as hubs to process samples for the 60 participating HBCUs. Of importance given the emphasis of The Just Project on HBCUs, these testing hubs are on HBCU campuses, including Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Texas Southern University, Tuskegee University and Xavier University of Louisiana.
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According to Rashid Mosavin, Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, “The Just Project has made a significant difference on our campus with testing available as frequently as needed. We were able to welcome our students, faculty and staff back to campus for in-person learning with confidence.” Likewise, James E.K. Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee shared, “Testing is the core component of a robust model in preventing the spread of infectious disease. With these resources and testing components in place, we’re able to make data-driven decisions and policies to support the health and safety of our students and community.”
Across the 60 participating institutions, HBCU students feel safer on campus, knowing easy-to-access, free testing is available. They view testing as a vehicle that enables them to return to the college experience they envisioned when they applied for admission, including the ability to participate in sports, socialize safely with their friends and have a meaningful, in-person learning experience.
Given the nation’s recent focus on recruiting diverse talent and creating a more inclusive work environment, Thermo Fisher has also committed to hiring more than 500 HBCU alumni over three years as part of The Just Project. Already, more than 180 HBCU alumni have joined the company. According to Lowery, Thermo Fisher has always had a focus on supporting education, particularly STEM programs, so launching an initiative to support HBCUs’ testing efforts was a natural fit.” He added, “There were also synergies with Thermo Fisher’s ongoing commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.” With increased attention on HBCUs, more and more employers are partnering with these historic institutions to add talent to their organizations, and actualize their commitment to diversity and inclusion.