JBlake Rustman caps vials containing media for COVID-19 sample collection kits. Rustman is one of a few dozen recent WSU graduates and students working at Pullman-based VMRD assembling COVID-19 sample collection kits for human health. Photo courtesy of VMRD.
by Josh Babcock
While many Washington State University graduates celebrated the coming summer break, some stuck around to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than two dozen graduates and undergraduate students have been hired by Pullman-based and Coug-founded Veterinary Medical Research & Development (VMRD) to assemble COVID-19 sample collection kits for human health. The tests will be used in hospitals and health centers around the world for COVID-19 testing.
Amanda Grimm, a product manager with VMRD estimates much of the workforce on the eight-week operation consists of current and graduated Cougs. Many of those students are from WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences based in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I wanted to help with the pandemic response in any way I knew how,” said Blake Rustman, who received his Bachelor of Science in microbiology in May.
On a good day, Rustman said he and the team will reach their goal of 60,000 completed and packaged sample collection kits.
In typical assembly line fashion, a special media that inactivates the infectious pathogen is filled into vials, capped, tightened, and packed for shipment worldwide by a team of no more than 30 people working 12-hour days, six days a week.
Rustman, the former chair of WSU’s Student Health Advisory Committee and a former lab teaching assistant, said his time at VMRD is an opportunity to put the skills he learned at WSU to the test. He also enjoys helping current WSU students working at VMRD master safety procedures and other lab techniques.
“It’s nice to help others learn all the techniques I learned,” Rustman said.
Emma Smith, who received her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry in May, worked at VMRD for five weeks before returning home to California. She joined VMRD after she lost her job at a local gym due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Smith said her decision to work for VMRD was for more than just the money.
“If we are going to get through this pandemic, we need to have access to sampling and tests for anyone who may need or want one,” Smith said.
VMRD was founded by Scott Adams, who received his DVM from WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1972 and his PhD in 1979.
His son, Ethan Adams, the current CEO of the company, said he is happy to help Cougs put their degrees to use right out of college by providing critical jobs during this trying time.
“We were inspired by the opportunity to provide immediate employment for people whose job opportunities may have been disrupted by the pandemic,” Adams said.