It started as a simple idea: donate pizza to the lab workers processing COVID-19 tests at the University of Washington’s virology labs.
But for Ellen Kuwana, c’92, her plan to utilize her lab experience to safely deliver food to health care workers in her free time continued to grow. A side hustle turned into a full-time commitment on weekends and eventually led Kuwana to quit her full-time job to focus on supporting both front-line workers and local restaurants in the Seattle area.
Kuwana, a freelance science writer, launched We Got This Seattle to spend her workdays coordinating donations, picking up food from Seattle-area businesses, and bringing the food to lab workers and other health care personnel.
The daughter of a KU chemistry professor, Kuwana graduated from the University with a biology degree before earning her master’s degree at UC San Francisco, where she also worked in research labs. Since then, she’s called Seattle home.
How did We Got This Seattle grow from a one-time idea to a full-time job?
“I would not have embarked on this road had I not been a scientist by training. In January and February 2020, I was spending a lot of time on Twitter following science journalists discussing the situation in China and Italy with the novel coronavirus. Most of our friends, in part because my husband is an MD–PhD, are in science or medicine.
I knew UW Virology was working around the clock, literally 24–7 to process the COVID-19 tests, with 80 people per shift. Health care workers are a visible workforce who get recognition for their work, and I felt the lab personnel deserved some recognition for their part in keeping everyone safe. I tweeted out to three local pizza places, asking who wanted to help me send pizzas as a thank you to UW Virology. I got a donation from one within three minutes. I figured that I could deliver the food safer than a random driver because of my lab training. You learn to not touch your face, and to be very aware of what you are touching, as well as how to properly put on and remove protective gear.
With my husband working six days a week in a hospital, I could not completely keep myself safe, so I decided to do some good with an amount of risk that I was qualified to mitigate to the extent possible. I was working two jobs at the time, and delivering food on Friday, Saturday and Sunday when I wasn’t working my main job.
This was really just me from March 13 to April 4. Then Signe Burke, who works full time at Amazon, contacted me and wanted to help. She’s been a lifesaver and has helped me with fundraising and tracking the eight to 10 deliveries each day. On April 1, I got a little scared for my safety and hired two college students to help me with picking up and delivering food, as a way to lower my personal risk of getting sick. This was out of concern for myself, but also to protect my husband’s well-being as much as possible, as he is an essential worker.
On April 10, I quit my job, because this effort was taking 40 to 50 hours a week. It was a tough decision in many ways to quit and fill that time with unpaid volunteer work, yet it also felt right. Sometimes you just know. At the same time I was deciding to quit my job, restaurants had closed. So what began as a gesture of appreciation, delivering food, became a lifeline of meals.”
— Ellen Kuwana, MS, Founder of WeGotThisSeattle.org (@EllenKuwana) May 22, 2020
What’s your relationship with the restaurants?
“The first few meals were donated, but as restaurants went takeout-only and offices and the University of Washington closed, revenue was down 80 to 90 percent for most restaurants. I set up a personal Facebook fundraiser and raised $25,000, then found a 501(c)(3) called Open Collective and connected that to the WeGotThisSeattle.co website so that people could make tax-deductible donations with 100 percent of funds going to local restaurants. I find out what front-line sites need, order from one of 65 plus restaurants I’m working with, pick up the food, and deliver it to a point person at a hospital, clinic, firehouse, homeless shelter, ambulance company, etc. I took the same work ethic and sense of professionalism into this volunteer effort as I would into a $1 million-dollar grant-funded research project.
I didn’t set out to do this—it just snowballed and the need was there. Not only did people in hospitals and labs need meals, but also restaurants desperately needed the business. Almost all have given me some kind of discount, and a few have been able to make rent or bring back a few workers because of the support of We Got This Seattle. The journalist in me loves asking questions, which is how I found out that one Thai restaurant that contacted me and donated two meals were $1500 behind on rent! I made it a point to order more meals from this Thai restaurant and got them enough business that they could pay rent on time. It was a win-win. So our mission statement reflects the importance of supporting local restaurants: Our dual mission is to support our front-line workers and local restaurants during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
And I know it’s meant a lot to the restaurants. One other component of this project is that Seattle has a vibrant Chinatown–International District, and we often go there for food. There are wonderful gift stores and a strong sense of history that you can sense and touch. There have been racist incidents: windows broken, graffiti, business owners threatened. It became important for me to order from many restaurants there as a show of support (and who doesn’t love Chinese food after a long day at work?). Everyone is trying to help each other. Every one of those restaurants has discounted the boxed meals for We Got This Seattle. They suggest other restaurants I should support, if I can. It’s a great community, and I hope everyone weathers this tough time.”
What will you remember from these months?
“There are many stories that will stick with me. An old friend got back in touch with me on Facebook to ask for my help. Her beloved father-in-law, who had been at UW for many years, died from COVID-19 complications, and she wanted to send a meal to the medical team at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) who took such great care of him. It took quite a bit of coordination and more than 20 emails, but we made it happen.
A woman who was a patient at UWMC contacted me and wanted to bring up snacks (several hundred dollars worth), thank you cards and cookies to thank the medical team, and wanted my help to coordinate a lunch, which I did. She has a cochlear implant, which she could not wear when she was sick. Imagine the fear and vulnerability of being in the ICU with this virus, and it’s hard to communicate with your medical team? She said they went above and beyond (and had to get really close to her face) to communicate with her. It was very important to her and her family to thank them, and they drove in from more than an hour away to do so.”
Like many Jayhawks, Corey Goodburn has KU in his blood.
His mother, Sara Dickey Goodburn, j’86, preceded his time at the University. It’s the four generations that came before that make this family historic.
Six generations of Goodburns have called KU their alma mater, with roots tracing all the way back to the beginning. Corey’s great-great-great-grandmother is none other than Flora Richardson Colman, c1873, the University’s first female graduate.
In addition to his mother and great-great-great-grandmother, Corey’s great-great grandmother, Nellie Colman Bigsby, c’1900; his great-grandmother, Flora Nell Bigsby Dickey, c’28; and his grandfather, David Wendell Dickey, b’56, all graduated from KU. All of that history makes the special day mean a little bit more for Corey.
“Being a sixth-generation Jayhawk means that I’m more connected to my family than ever,” Corey says. “Yes, we may all come from the same family, but now we relate because we all share KU history.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Corey and his family were not able to have the Commencement experience every student wants. Their family made due with a celebration from home.
“We made it a day celebrating Corey, complete with KU decorations, pictures, balloons and a congratulatory banner outside,” Sara says. “That morning, Corey dressed in his gown, mortar board and tassel as the immediate family settled in to watch KU’s virtual celebration. Extended family members either called, sent video messages or dropped by to see Corey during the day. I do look forward to the day when we can watch him walk down the Hill with his fellow graduates to make the celebration complete.”
Until then, Corey has spent his time both reflecting on the past and preparing for the future.
“When I was young, I attended every single KU home football game,” he says. “After attending some games, I knew I had to attend college at KU. I saw firsthand that the KU culture and experience was something I wanted to be a part of down the line.”
So no pressure to attend KU, with all that history?
“Being a Jayhawk was my choice, and I wasn’t pressured a single bit from my family,” Corey says. “I will do the same with my future kids. Although they will be raised Jayhawks, I will want them to choose the path and university that is best for them. Fingers crossed it’s the University of Kansas.”
Editor’s note: Our profile of Corey as a freshman included the following: Although Corey’s days as a Jayhawk are just beginning, he’s already looking ahead to another four-year milestone. “On [my mother’s] graduation day in 1986, she and my grandfather took pictures by the Jayhawk statue in front of Strong Hall,” Corey says of the landmark that his grandfather’s class gave to the University in 1956. “It’s my wish to take the same photo with my mom upon my graduation in May 2020.”
(Left to right: Judy Bowser, Rita Matousek Ashley and Durinda Ashley)
Walking through the Campanile, down the Hill and into Memorial Stadium at Commencement is one of KU’s greatest traditions, and the Class of 2020 had to postpone the special day. This year’s senior class shares the missed experience with the Class of 1970, which was forced to have Commencement in Allen Fieldhouse due to heavy rainfall.
In an unfortunate twist of timing, 2020 marks the Class of 1970’s year to enter the Gold Medal Club, which normally means an on-campus reunion to celebrate alumni’s 50-year anniversary. Plans for the special weekend included a walk down the Hill with the Class of 2020.
Rita Matousek Ashley, f’70, g’72, g’84, was one of the many graduates of that class who had made plans to be in Lawrence for Commencement. Instead, she and her friend Judy Bowser, d’69, decided to visit Lawrence a couple days after the original scheduled date for a simple hike around campus.
“The fact that the Class of 1970 did not get to walk down the Hill has always been a disappointment for me,” Ashley says. “I watched my husband and both of my sons walk down the Hill. I was thrilled when the 1970 class was invited to walk with the 2020 class. When that plan did not materialize I shared with friends that I was going to do the walk myself ‘just because.’”
Bowser had other ideas to make their trip special. She secretly invited their friend Durinda Ashley, d’71, and surprised Ashley with a cap and gown at the Campanile to give her friend a Commencement experience that was 50 years and three degrees overdue.
“The combination of the surprise, the perfect weather, the remnants of confetti and champagne corks at the Campanile and the walk three times made it a memorable day,” Ashley says.
Ashley’s KU experience was a unique one, as the first-generation college student came back two more times for a graduate degree in German Education and an MBA from the Edwards campus.
“The whole KU experience was memorable for me,” she says. “Ultimately, [my favorite memory] always comes back to the Rock Chalk chant. The chant is a unifying force for KU grads. The chant reminds me of the great people I got to know at KU. Those people then remind me of the valuable experiences I had at every level at KU and continue to have as a result of the experiences I shared at the University.”
If you’re looking to mask your Jayhawk pride, John Killen is your guy.
Killen, j’85, is president & CEO of WinCraft, a manufacturer of licensed and promotional products for over 500 colleges and professional sports teams. As COVID-19 continued to spread, the company began to look at how they could help.
“After looking at what was needed, we knew we could produce masks to help,” he says. “We went to KU first to develop the product and the campaign due to our great relationship with the University. The first masks we sold had Jayhawks on them.”
Since then, more than 200 colleges have reached out to produce masks with their school represented on them.
The production of each mask comes with a purpose. A portion of proceeds from each Jayhawk mask will go to the KU COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. In addition, WinCraft donated hundreds of masks to essential KU employees in Facilities, Housing & Dining Services, and Kansas Athletics.
“Wincraft is a private company and likes to give back,” Killen says. “We asked KU for a charitable component, and they suggested donations for the [COVID Relief] fund. The response has already been overwhelming, with thousands already sold.”
The machine-washable masks are available for sale at KU Bookstore and Rally House. Please note that the masks are not intended to be used as medical grade Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE.
Their flight path took the group above Lawrence Memorial Hospital and multiple fire stations in the area before heading to Topeka. The idea for the flyover began when a member of their club was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19. One flight over his hospital has since grown to flyovers in multiple cities and their nearby hospitals.
The clock hit zero in Miami and red, yellow and white confetti rained down, some featuring tweets from Kansas City Chiefs fans and players. While every Chiefs fan would love to get their hands on a piece as a souvenir, a KU connection landed a full bag in the hands of a local artist with big plans.
Allison Smith, d’05, n’07, g’08, had a previous connection with Ryan Toma, a groundskeeper for the Chiefs and was keeping up with his experience in Miami through Instagram. She saw him post about the tweet confetti and loved it.
Fast forward to the next day, and Kansas City-based artist Megh Knappenberger, f’04, above, asked on Instagram how she could get her hands on some confetti for a project.
“I was on my way to the KU hoops game and happened to see Megh’s Instagram story asking if anyone had a ‘hookup’ or ‘connection’ for the confetti,” Smith says. “So, I messaged Ryan to see if he could spare some. They messaged each other and met up in person on Tuesday afternoon!”
As for the end result … we’ll see! That’s a lot of confetti to clean and dry.
Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last celebration for local teams this year. “Fingers crossed for another championship for KU in April 2020,” Smith says. “I’ve got a good feeling!”
A spring semester gift to the University of Kansas is already paying dividends.
On Feb. 7, Silicon Valley financial technology company Ripple awarded a $2 million grant to KU as part of the University Blockchain Research Initiative. The program focuses on accelerating academic research, technical development and innovation in blockchain, cryptocurrency and digital payments at top universities.
Ripple is led by Brad Garlinghouse, c’94, who serves as CEO of the San Francisco-based cryptocurrency and digital-payment processing firm.
One of the programs benefiting from the grant is the KU Blockchain Institute, a student-led organization that focuses on advancing KU’s standing in the fast- developing field of blockchain. The group is open to students from all disciplines, including engineering, business, economics, mathematics, science, health care and technology.
Daniel Jones, a senior from Owasso, Oklahoma, is president and co-founder of the KU Blockchain Institute. His interest in blockchain was sparked by attending industry conferences and studying abroad.
“I was able to network with seasoned professionals who seemed adamant that blockchain technology would be a huge disruption for their industry,” Jones says. “I remember thinking, ‘If these executives are so worried about this technology, maybe I should check it out.’ Incumbent firms may see blockchain as a major disruption, but the KU Blockchain Institute sees blockchain as a serious opportunity for student entrepreneurs to challenge the status quo.”
Daniel Jones, Brad Garlinghouse and Jack Schraad, co-founder and vice president of the KU Blockchain Institute
Since its launch in August 2018, the KU Blockchain Institute has hosted three large conferences, including an October 2019 conference on cybersecurity. Speakers from FedEx, Lockheed Martin, the University of Arkansas and IBM attended, as well as Garlinghouse.
So what exactly is blockchain?
“Blockchain uses applied mathematics and cryptography to create trust in any transaction,” Jones explains. “Blockchain is a verifiable data structure that creates trust or traceability through a transfer of value. The transfer of value takes place through a transaction around a digital asset. A digital asset can represent any piece of physical property or store of value.”
“Using distributed ledger technology, blockchain creates a direct peer-to-peer exchange system for the transfer of value. Blockchain is to value what the internet is to information.”
When Matt Lindberg reached out to us about a special 10-year anniversary surprise for his wife Sarah, we couldn’t pass up the chance to give the Life Members a tour of campus to see their alma mater, old and new.
Ten years since they last visited campus has been 10 years too long for this Jayhawk couple. Matt, j’08, and Sarah Strathman Lindberg, c’09, returned to Lawrence October 11 to find a campus filled with change, but still familiar.
Their day began with a trip to the Oread Hotel, a far cry from the pile of rubble that was once the Crossing. On the 9th-floor rooftop terrace, familiar sights mixed with the new: A giant apartment complex across the street from the nearly 100-year-old Memorial Stadium, and renovated Jayhawk Boulevard and Memorial Drive connecting historic campus buildings.
Next, a walk down Jayhawk Boulevard past Fraser Hall where the couple met in French class, and Watson Library, home to studying among the stacks.
“It still feels comfortable walking around. I recognize everything,” Matt said. “It still feels like campus to me.”
The tour brought the pair to Matt’s old stomping grounds at the School of Journalism and the University Daily Kansan, where memories of 2008 came back.
Matt was on the paper’s staff as a student, including serving as special sections editor his senior year.
“After KU won the title, Mario Chalmers came into the Kansan offices asking for a paper, apologizing for not having his KU student ID,” he said. “I think we gave him a dozen copies.”
From there, the couple trekked across campus to the new football complex, which has seen massive changes since the Lindbergs’ graduation after the 2007-’08 Orange Bowl season.
They were able to poke their head into the football facilities, in part due to their fandom: They spent the night camping for front-row seats in the student section during the Jayhawks’ 12-1 season.
The last stop on the tour was the DeBruce Center, where the couple got to check out the “Original Rules of Basket Ball,” an exhibition that features a recording of James Naismith describing his invention.
After a full morning of tours, the Lindbergs were sent off to explore Mass Street and Lawrence, thanks to gift cards from KU Alumni restaurant partners Papa Keno’s Pizza, Jefferson’s and Merchants.
In between stops to see the newest additions to the campus, the Lindbergs were happy to reminisce about memories of the little things.
“For me, it’s been walking up and down the hills,” Sarah said. “I did that so many times, and now here I am doing it again, except now I’m not going to class.”
For Matt, it’s a return to what was once normal. “Going into the Kansan room, I haven’t been there since I graduated. I used to be in there every day.”
Despite everything that’s changed, the campus contains a spirit that continues to last.
“It feels very much the same, but current,” Matt said. “Some things just haven’t changed, and I like it.”
At Andale High School, in the small community of Andale in Sedgwick County, one senior pulls straight into Allen Fieldhouse by way of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
A recent and growing tradition, some high schools let their seniors paint their own parking spots, a fun way to show off their interests and art skills. Nick Summers, a senior at Andale High, teamed up with his grandfather to paint a Jayhawk masterpiece.
“I have always been a huge Jayhawk fan,” Summers says. “I go to all the home football games and senior night basketball game every year. Since I love both football and basketball I decided to combine them to make a parking spot.
“It took a lot of work; we used stencils that my grandfather made to get the details so exact. It took a lot of paint and a long time, about two weeks to finish.”
The end result is a sight to see:
So, is the University of Kansas in his future? Perhaps an art degree is in order.
“I plan on going to college after high school,” Summers says. “I have my heart set on Kansas but am exploring other options as well. It’s always been my dream to attend Kansas.”
Until then, he’s enjoying his senior year in style.
“All the teachers and students think it’s awesome, even the K-State fans!”
We love sharing stories of KU fans showing their Jayhawk spirit in unique ways. Send your story with pictures to email@example.com.
The plaza in front of Wescoe Hall has been lovingly referred to as Wescoe Beach for decades. This year, a group of KU students are making a splash with a proposal to turn the classic building into a real beach party with a rooftop pool.
The concept of the #WescoeRooftopPool began as a humorous crusade on Twitter, which continues to grow with some big names jumping in on the fun, including Athletics Director Jeff Long and former NBA player Scot Pollard, d’97.
“@StudentsofKU had been tweeting about it for a while and made a Photoshop version of it,” says Jordan Yarnell, an architecture senior from Elgin, Illinois. “Someone commented ‘let the architecture students handle this’ so we did. The three of us started to joke about it and then we realized it would be fun and pretty easy to do.”
Yarnell teamed up with fellow architecture students Jordan Vonderbrink, of Eudora, and Aaron Michalicek, of St. Louis, to create the designs. The results are a sight to see:
As fun as it is to dream, it’s worth asking: Could this really happen?
“Short answer is no,” Yarnell says. “We don’t know the structural makeup of Wescoe for what really has to be done. To add 200 thousand gallons of water, another whole floor, a deck, a lot more people, and more concrete, that’s a lot of work.”
Don’t tell Jeff Long, as he appears to be all in. Long has certainly leaned into the joke, teasing the public with promises we don’t exactly expect to come true.