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How Jonas Schemm (C’24) Helped Distribute 200,000 Pieces of PPE Around the World 

The Class of 2024 is all-too familiar with COVID-19, with the height of the pandemic affecting both their senior year of high school and first year of college. 

For Jonas Schemm (C’24), the pandemic presented an opportunity to give back, which is why he started volunteering with a local, student-run organization that helped distribute protective equipment to those in need. In the years since, he’s worked with several organizations in a variety of roles, helping get much-needed supplies into the hands of some 200,000 people. 

“Having the opportunity to connect both in-person and online with people from a myriad of backgrounds has been extraordinary and one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Schemm said. “I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with an incredible community of volunteers throughout the whole process, and I am so proud of what we have been able to accomplish together.”

Providing Pandemic Protection

From his first day of remote learning, Schemm knew that he wanted to keep people safe and he immediately got to work with PPE4ALL, an entirely student-run organization that sprouted up in New York during the early days of the pandemic.

Three young people stand in front of an open hatchback car. They are wearing masks and holding boxes of masks in their hands.

Jonas Schemm (C’24) with fellow volunteers at a PPE drop-off in Queens, New York.

“The mission of PPE4ALL was to provide free personal protective equipment to anyone who requested it,” Schemm said. “My work there helped give me a sense of structure and purpose during my transition into college. I felt really lucky to be connected to an organization like that where I could apply myself to something during such an uncertain time.”

The organization solicited donations from individual donors and private companies and then funneled protective gear into the communities that needed it most, determined by evaluating transmission and case rates around the world. PPE4ALL received nearly $49,000 worth of donations and distributed approximately 200,000 individual pieces of personal protective equipment. 

“In that first year, we purchased plastic, elastic and staples with our donation funding and then assembled, by hand, face shields for distribution,” Schemm said. “We also worked with local organizations to transform fabrics into masks which were then also included in our distributions.”

The group began working out of a rented space in Poughkeepsie, New York. 

“It was this huge space in a historic building that was once a trolley barn,” Schemm remembered. “I would go up there for volunteer shifts on the weekends and kept on doing that until I came to Washington, DC for school.”

After spending time as a local volunteer coordinator while still at home, Schemm continued working for an adjacent organization, The People’s PPE, as a remote logistics organizer when he arrived on the Hilltop. From Georgetown, Schemm worked with donors and volunteers from across the country, soliciting donations and coordinating the shipment of much-needed resources around the world. He also helped establish a local distribution hub in the greater metro area, distributing nearly 10,000 KN95 masks to individuals and groups in need.

Researching And Living on the Hilltop

Schemm, a biochemistry major, was eager to get hands-on research experience when he arrived at Georgetown. From classes to lab work, he says, the experience has been incredible. 

A young man with short hair holds a long dripper and pulls a solution from a beaker in a science lab.

Jonas Schemm (C’24) working in the Roepe Lab.

In the spring of his sophomore year, he joined the lab of Paul Roepe, a professor in the Department of Chemistry. Since joining the Roepe Lab, Schemm has had the chance to work on several different topics, including the perfusion of drug probes in live parasites and the expression of mutated proteins in yeast. As part of the honors program in the chemistry department, Schemm’s work culminated in an honors thesis summarizing significant results from his research. 

“My thesis explored what happens to drug transport activity when we select key regions of a specific parasite protein and mutate them,” Schemm said. “We found that mutating these parts of the protein significantly reduced drug transport, far more than we had originally hypothesized.” 

These findings, he says, contribute to a better overall understanding of the structural nature of this protein and how it operates in the parasite. For Schemm, Georgetown offered fantastic research opportunities both in faculty labs and in his coursework.

In Esther Braselmann’s class Experimental Methods in Biophysical Chemistry, Schemm had the opportunity to complete two semester-long projects. Both projects complimented the work of the Braselmann Lab, which studies biochemistry in living cells. One project, which involved proposing a new RNA probe to complement existing probes used by the lab, bore fruit even after students had left the classroom. 

“A few months after the course finished, the professor reached out to me and other students in the course requesting permission to share our RNA probe proposals with a collaborator at Fairfield University,” said Schemm. “In short, another course taught by a synthetic chemist at Fairfield would involve the students synthesizing some of the probes we had proposed in our class, which could then be used in the Braselmann Lab for future experiments.” 

“I am quite excited at the prospect of these probes being ‘brought to life,’” Schemm said. “It seemed like I was able to have a tangible albeit small role in potentially shaping the future of this collaboration and that felt incredibly rewarding.”

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