Students help plan and execute mass vaccination clinic


Grace Nashleanas, Sam Schwierking, Tyler Brenza and Colton Richardson, led by industrial engineering professor Sarah Ryan, helped plan Iowa State’s mass vaccination clinic.

Kylee Haueter

In addition to attending classes full time, a group of four undergraduate industrial engineering students helped plan the recent mass vaccination clinics taking place on campus. 

Tyler Brenza, Grace Nashleanas, Colton Richardson and Sam Schwierking, led by Ghazal Shah Abadi, project manager and graduate student, and Sarah Ryan, Joseph Walkup professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, made up the team that planned the logistics of the mass vaccination clinics at State Gym.

Industrial engineering students participated in the undergraduate research assistantship program, where faculty members proposed projects and recruited undergraduate students to work on the projects. 

Ryan proposed the project of designing a mass vaccination clinic after discussions with Frank Peters, an associate professor in the industrial and manufacturing systems engineering department, back in January. Peters also serves as the chair of the COVID-19 university response team. 

“The main skills that the students were involved in were helping come up with possible layouts for the facilities,” Ryan said. “So they ended up doing it in State Gym, but originally they were thinking about possibly having it in Scheman or in Forker. So a couple of students worked on that.”

The team also spent a couple of Friday mornings in March observing Iowa State’s smaller vaccination clinics and collected data such as how long it takes someone to wait in line, to register, to walk from one station to the next, to get vaccinated and to walk to the observation area.

“We went and observed and took careful measurements of how long it took to do each operation and how the times between — the time intervals between people arriving,” she said. “All of those, all of that data is important for coming up with estimates of not only the time it takes, but the variability of the time it takes for each operation.”

The data the students collected went into their queuing model they prepared. Collecting this data and planning is essential to make sure the clinic is dissuading wasted vaccine doses and long wait times.

The students were excited when presented with the project and when they started working on it.

“[I was] really excited, just because it was one of the few projects that I saw through Iowa State that actually seemed like it was gonna make a difference,” Nashleanas, senior in industrial engineering, said. “I was also excited about the fact that it could make a difference not only at Iowa State, but if we found something that was useful, it could be used at other clinics and in the future as well.”

Junior industrial engineering major Brenza said it was intimidating at first.

“Obviously things changed a lot as we were working too,” Brenza said. “For me too, it’s just knowing that the work we would be doing might make a difference here and, you know, across the state maybe too.”

Another junior industrial engineering major, Schwierking, said they were initially planning for the mass vaccination clinic to take place in the fall.

“We were planning for the fall, and then all of a sudden vaccines started to become more and more available and it became something where, ‘oh, this has got to happen next week,’ so it kind of changed a lot over time,” he said. “It was definitely something that we kind of needed to be on our toes with and be a little bit more flexible with for sure.”

Nashleanas said that while the accelerated timeline didn’t necessarily increase the amount of work the students had to do, it changed the focus of their work.

“I would say the biggest thing was just kind of figuring out what was most important. Like we were working on different things and stuff but kind of once everything got sped up we kind of just dropped some of the smaller aspects of our projects and focused on some of the more dire information,” she said. “So I wouldn’t say that it added any extra work, it more so just changed our focus and changed what was a priority at that moment.”

Richardson, a sophomore in industrial engineering, said one of the most important things he learned from the process was how to think on his feet and be adaptable.

“Everything is constantly changing in a real-world setting, which was very true for this,” he said.

Richardson also said it was an interesting experience to see the clinic from both sides, as a student who received a vaccine from an Iowa State vaccine clinic.

“There’s a lot that goes on that you don’t even have to — that you normally don’t think about. And it’s really weird because I’m someone who’s gone through the vaccine clinic,” Richardson said. “And it’s weird seeing it from the upper level versus what it’s like to just go through it [and] see the difference.” 

“It was kind of crazy to be kind of on what everybody’s talking about that’s like, nowadays a lot of people [are talking about] COVID or school, that’s pretty much all like in general we talk about for the most part,” Schwierking said. “So to be a part and to be in the know and know that you’re doing something important and contributing to something that impacts everybody on campus is kind of a big deal.”

Brenza said this opportunity provided a great learning experience both in his academic career and for his future professional career as well.

“Just being able to kind of be versatile and adjust on the fly is huge,” Brenza said. 

“This is my first semester doing research so just kind of working on a project of this scale was really cool too, that was a new experience for me,” he said. “I got to learn about the entire research process and, you know, working through a team with something this big was, I think it was just overall a great learning experience going forward with not only my academic career, but in my future and professional career as well.”

Stephen Simpson, director of Emergency Management and Outreach, said this project provided an opportunity for students to get involved and help.

“Our core missions are teaching research and outreach, and so we have — throughout the pandemic —tried to figure out ways to engage our students in our operation, so it was just a natural process for us,” Simpson said.

Appointments for the vaccine clinic are now available for April 27-29 and can be made on the Iowa State vaccination dashboard.