Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner
About a week into spring quarter, EWU professor of biochemistry Jeff Corkill had the idea to make hand sanitizer on campus and give it away to the community.
Chemicals like isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide had already been ordered for spring quarter when EWU announced all classes would be online. The chemistry department had a surplus of chemicals, empty labs and a near-retired professor itching to do a little chemistry. It just made sense to Corkill to try and do something for the community by making hand sanitizer.
There were a lot of hoops Corkill had to jump through. First and foremost was getting permission from the FDA. Before long, EWU Chemistry was licensed to make and distribute hand sanitizer, so long as there’s a Drug Facts label on every bottle.
“Normally I think you’d have to get inspected,” Corkill said, “but because it’s connected to the COVID-19 pandemic we were able to get some of that waived and just fill out a form online.”
Then Corkill contacted a university lawyer to double check any legal issues. Since the chemicals are ordered with state funding, there was a potential problem with them selling (or even giving away) products made with those chemicals. But eventually that was cleared as well.
Next, Corkill wanted to ensure the bottles would look nice. He bought bottles from a nearby dollar store, but wanted a unique label. That’s when visual communications design professor Mindy Breen was brought onto the project.
As soon as Breen heard about the project, she was on board.
“The design program values opportunities for design students to collaborate and tackle community-based challenges like Eagle Sanitizer,” Breen said.
Breen brought on Danielle Flinn, a senior VCD student, to help design the labels. Breen framed the project and advised Flinn, who took over from there. Flinn did a few rounds of design, getting feedback from Breen, Corkill and members of EWU marketing and communications. They also decided on the name “Eagle Sanitizer” to keep EWU’s ties up front.
“I love using design to engage with our campus and the surrounding community,” Flinn said. This project is going to be part of her last quarter before she graduates through her independent study on design outreach and engagement.
After being brought on, a first design was submitted within a couple hours. Flinn had to catch up on all of the regulations that had already been laid out, but was ready to go after that. The final design was done just a few days later.
“I’m really thankful I’ve had the opportunity to work on this cross-discipline project,” Flinn said. “Both to promote fostering similar projects across our university in the future, to promote our university as a whole and of course to support our surrounding community during these uncertain times.”
While design work was being done, Corkill was ready to get back in the lab. Plenty of people in the chemistry department and throughout the university were eager to volunteer. But to promote social distancing, Corkill kept the team small. Corkill and EWU lab manager Fred Joslin made about 30 liters of hand sanitizer in one day.
“It wasn’t that elaborate,” Corkill said, since the two of them are used to lab projects like this.
More good news came when EWU marketing and communications was able to get in contact with Instant Sign Factory in Spokane. They offered to print all of the labels for free.
Distribution starts next week around Cheney, with highlighted areas like the Cheney Police Department, City Hall, homeless shelters, senior living facilities and more.
“I think there’s a real demand for it out there,” Corkill said. “We’re already planning to make a second batch.”
Unsure if dollar stores will continue to carry the same bottles, Corkill is looking into other options. He’s considering giving out his email on every bottle. This way, when the bottle is empty, they can contact Corkill for a free refill.
While this isn’t the end of the Eagle Sanitizer project, those involved are already proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“Real experience is invaluable,” Flinn said. “Thankfully, EWU does a fantastic job of creating and supporting these types of opportunities for our students.”
Flinn will graduate and Corkill will retire at the end of this quarter. Both were given an opportunity to make their last quarter at EWU a memorable one for good reasons.
“We were able to make a tangible product to help people in these times,” Corkill said. “And I was glad to get back in the lab and do a little more chemistry.”
Corkill was especially glad since this quarter has had little-to-no opportunities for lab work. “Doing chemistry is a lot more fun than teaching online, which I don’t like at all,” Corkill said.
There was potential for this quarter to be a sad end to their EWU careers. With online classes, learning adjustments, little-to-no socialization and a lot of other changes, it’s easy to spot the differences about this quarter.
But those involved with Eagle Sanitizer found a way to “go out with a bang, even though that’s not what you usually want to do in chemistry,” Corkill said.