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Kiwanian on front lines of pandemic

| Jul 20, 2020

Peter Ch’en is brave.

Currently a third-year microbiology major at the University of Washington, Ch’en has bigger plans to ultimately become a physician. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ch’en was ready to step into the fray.

Peter ChenThat’s not very surprising. Ch’en is known to step up to a challenge. He joined Key Club during his sophomore year of high school and went on to serve as vice president his junior year and lieutenant governor his senior year. When he went off to college, he joined the online Cascadia Kiwanis Club in the Pacific Northwest District. He continues to help with Key Club in many ways, including during district conventions.

Here’s what Ch’en has to say about working with the virus, and what he loves about the Kiwanis family.

How did you get involved with COVID-19 work and what did you do?
Since my second year, I’ve been researching in the Davis Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle. We research mitosis (cell division), specifically the kinetochore/microtubule interactions and how forces are precisely determined to ensure accurate chromosome segregation.  

However, when COVID-19 rolled around, most of the health science labs closed. UW Medicine and Virology quickly became Washington’s primary testing center as we learned more about COVID-19. The CEO of UW Medicine, Paul Ramsey, sent out an email to the UW health science labs requesting help with analytical work and testing since there was a huge influx of new samples coming from across the region. I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t a little hesitant at first. There were so many unknowns with the virus, and working directly with it greatly increased the risk of me contracting it. However, I responded “yes” to that email because I wanted to tangibly contribute to the fight, and as a hopeful future physician, recognized that the increased risk was outweighed by the greater good of getting everyone’s life back to normal quicker.  

I volunteered for about three months in UW Medicine’s 24-hour main laboratory from March to May 2020. We helped prepare samples for testing by the UW Virology lab. Samples would arrive every couple hours via FedEx and UPS from clinics and hospitals all around the Pacific Northwest region, and occasionally from other parts of the U.S. I would help unpack these samples, get them into the UW system, and prepare them so that when couriers came to pick them up every two hours, they would be immediately ready for testing by the Virology lab.  

What was it like to have a part in the response to the pandemic?
Humbling, to say the least. It was a very dynamic and stressful environment to be in — created by something so microscopic, yet powerful enough to bring entire systems and the way we regularly do things down. It also showed me how different components of healthcare, in addition to our clinicians, are working hard to improve the health of everyone.  

Why are you a member of the Kiwanis family?
Because I know how huge of an impact it can have on our communities. Speaking primarily from my experience in Key Club, I watched as intelligent and like-minded student-leaders were able to put their heads together to accomplish huge initiatives that supported our communities in need. I believe that the Kiwanis family shares this same sense of motivation in serving others and I love surrounding myself with a group of people that continues to inspire me every day to give back.

What motivates you to volunteer?
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the influence and help of many people in my life. Knowing that I’m fortunate enough to have some spare time, I want to put it to good use in lifting others up and contributing to a more equitable and just world. 

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