Being an Intern at MRL During COVID-19 Written by McKenzie Hatton

Just a few weeks ago, I received an email from my school OU (Ohio University) saying that due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), I would have to complete classes remotely for a few weeks. At first I was shocked. Colleges cancel for NOTHING! I remember my sophomore year, ice and snow covered every sidewalk and instead of cancelling class that day, the university told us to avoid slipping by “waddling like penguins”. When my school cancelled in-person classes for an entire two weeks, I realized that this virus was more serious than the COVID-19 memes that I had been scrolling through on Reddit.

A week passed and universities started to inform students that classes would be held remotely for the REST of the semester. I had a sliver of hope that OU would stay open, but logically I knew that it was only a matter of time. When I received the official email, I immediately called my mom and began crying. I explained to her how I am worried about my college town Athens ,OH , my second home, and my second family (my college friends). I was wondering how my professors could even attempt to teach hands on classes like welding or hydraulics online. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to buy my favorite 50 cent slice of cheese pizza from Courtside (an Athens bar) or enjoy spontaneous trips to the waterfalls at Old Man’s Cave. But when I was collecting my belongings to temporarily move back to Dayton, I had a deep pain in my chest and a sudden realization of the fact that part of my college experience is being ripped away.

Katherine Katherine
Katherine and Elizabith Katherine and Elizabeth

The silver lining of moving back to Dayton with my family was a spring internship with a Dayton defense contractor, MRL Materials Resources LLC. MRL is only 30 minutes from my house and I’ve always wanted to become a researcher. I was intimidated at first. MRL is full of impressive people. Some are making rockets, others are 3D printing steel (which I didn’t even know was possible until I saw it at MRL) and some looking at atomic arrangements of metals with fancy microscopes that they invented and manufactured themselves. Even the other interns at MRL were working with very advanced equipment. I felt like I was living an adult version of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Although it was scary, I quickly picked up high-level skills thanks to my patient and supportive team members. I was eventually assigned to work on programming a robotic arm. When I finally got the robot up and running, I smiled so much that my cheeks hurt! I was so proud of myself.

But of course, as soon as I settled in and started making progress, the Ohio Department of Health Director released a Stay-at-Home Order. Another wrench was thrown in my plans. The next day at work, the president of MRL, Dr. Ayman Salem, informed us that we have now opened a new spin-off of our small business to support our community by making personal protective equipment (PPE): MRL Medical LLC. He showed us the prototype of our first product: MRL Faceshield. Those who know me, know how much I care about others. Throughout my entire life, I’ve volunteered for nursing homes, dog shelters, food programs, children’s extracurriculars, etc. So when I found out that we would be fighting the COVID-19 battle by protecting our healthcare workers, I was so excited! But when Ayman announced this, he also informed us that we should consider working from home to avoid being exposed to the virus. We were given the option to choose to stick around and help make PPE while maintaining social distance rules. The choice was ours. I knew that I would have to sacrifice time with my family to keep them safe and that I may end up catching the virus, but I chose to help others. I chose to fight COVID19. I chose to make PPE onsite with the MRL team. Seeing our first 20 MRL Faceshields made me even more proud of my choice to stay.

Now look back and realize that switching to online classes, no matter how annoying it may be, was actually a blessing. I am a proud member of the MRL Medical LLC team and will continue fighting to save the lives of those battling COVID-19. I was also excited when I realized that our team designed a solution for all my fellow college students or anyone else who wants to help: Our product is also a DIY MRL Faceshield that can be made in anyone’s home, garage, or office. For my friends’ families who want to help but don’t have time, they can buy the MRL Faceshields from us and we will send it to their hospital of choice. The MRL team is working day and night, but the demand for PPE is huge. I encourage all readers to take action against COVID-19! Good luck and stay safe!