September 10, 2020

Laptop? Check. Bed linens? Check. Clothes? Check. School supplies? Of course.

First-aid kit? Maybe…

When they’re living away from home – and even when taking classes remotely – many students arrive at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill prepared and ready to jump into their coursework and extracurricular activities. But many don’t arrive with one of the major essentials for life away from home: basic first-aid supplies.

Kate Leo gets ready to deliver the first round of first-aid kits.

Kate Leo gets ready to deliver the first round of first-aid kits.

Two University undergrads are looking to mend that problem. Kate Leo and Hannah Tuckman, both juniors at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, are leading an initiative to put first-aid kits into the hands of first-year students. Through persistent social entrepreneurial efforts, they are partnering with UNC Campus Health to provide 500 free, general first-aid kits to students just getting started at Carolina. Although the initiative is primarily focused on first-year students, the first-aid kits are free to any student who requests them.

“We realized that people come to Carolina with very little knowledge about Campus Health — or with really anything to prepare themselves in case they get hurt or sick,” says Tuckman, a biostatistics major. “There is a big transition from where your parents are taking care of you in high school versus when you’re a freshman at college. It can be a shock that you have to put yourself first, take care of yourself and understand what you need.”

With a focus on equitable access to care and wellness promotion, the first-aid kit initiative aims to educate as well. Not only do the first-aid kits contain basic supplies, they also include information about common illness symptoms (including those associated with COVID-19), treatments, and a list of medications and resources available through Campus Health.

The idea for the initiative was born during the UNC First-Year Seminar (PLCY 89), where Leo and Tuckman met. The course teaches students to seek innovative solutions for social transformation through entrepreneurial thought and action. Leo and Tuckman were assigned a semester-long project that became the first-aid kit initiative. Taught by Melissa Carrier, MBA, the course asks students to explore their vision for the state of the world and provides them with the mindset and tools to make that vision a reality.

“We want to empower students to develop their mindset, skills and knowledge so they can identify and practice lifelong changemaking,” says Carrier, a professor of the practice in public policy and director of social innovation with Innovate Carolina. “Through their dedication and entrepreneurial spirit, Kate and Hannah are an inspiration to other students who want to make a direct impact on their local community.”

Hannah Tuckman preps first-aid kits.

Hannah Tuckman preps first-aid kits.

What sparked the idea? While sitting in the main lobby of her first-year dorm, Tuckman saw a student approach the front desk and ask for bandages. He was bleeding from a skateboarding accident. Unfortunately, the front desk didn’t have supplies on-hand to help. Often, first-aid supplies aren’t readily available without a trip to Campus Health. After Leo and Tuckman began talking with other students, resident advisers (RAs), nurses at Campus Health and members of other health organizations across campus, the idea for the first-aid kits was born.

“The first-year seminar was a crucial catalyst for developing our main idea. It taught us how to think critically about what a social venture is,” says Leo, a health policy and management major. “We were able to focus on how to identify a need and determine the best way to serve our community.”

“Melissa Carrier helped us so much in this process,” adds Tuckman. “Without her expertise, we would not have been as successful. Kate and I wouldn’t have connected or have first-aid kits to show for it.”

Receiving good feedback on their idea, Leo and Tuckman decided to move forward with making the first-aid kits a reality.

“Through the course, I fell in love with the aspect of social ventures and how to create impact,” says Tuckman. “I could never have seen the project coming to fruition like it has, especially as a freshman who didn’t really didn’t know anything about Campus Health or available health resources.”

The students originally planned to sell the kits, with proceeds going toward basic first-aid and CPR training for RAs, plus donations of first-aid supplies to dormitory front desks. But after researching the resources available on campus and talking with potential partners, they realized their initiative better aligned with Campus Health, which provides student-centered, inclusive, comprehensive health care and wellness promotion.

This shift in strategy led Leo and Tuckman to Campus Health. Sara Stahlman, MA, a marketing and communication coordinator, partnered with the student duo over six months to develop the kits. Campus Health offered funding for the project and provided the first-aid kits, collateral materials and marketing support.

The initiative not only allows Leo and Tuckman to meet an unmet need for students, but also inspires their futures beyond graduation. Leo came to the University interested in biology with a goal of pre-med, but the course and her experience opened the door for her to study public health with a focus on health policy and management.

The health kits, meant for first-year students at UNC, provide first-aid supplies and information about campus health services.

The health kits, meant for first-year students at UNC, provide first-aid supplies and information about campus health services.

“The first-year seminar showed me what policy looks like, and the experience really led me to where I am today with public health,” says Leo. “Health policy and management sits at the intersection of health and business, which is where our first-aid kit initiative also resides. The kits were a great opportunity to become involved in something hands-on that’s directly related to my major.”

“I realized the impact I can have on a community,” Tuckman shares. “I’m a biostatistics major, and many students in my department go into pharmaceuticals and data science. But I’ve pivoted my focus to see what type of public health impact and benefit I can bring to a smaller community. How can I have a much more personal impact through the work that I do?”

The initiative is off to a quick start. Leo and Tuckman began distributing the first-aid kits during the Week of Welcome at a booth set up near the first-year dormitories.

“Coming to such a big school, I didn’t think there would be opportunities for students to drive an initiative based on an idea,” says Leo. “It was really cool that we got to work with our professor and Campus Health to implement a whole new project on campus. Being able to share our story with freshmen through the distribution of the kits can be a motivator for those students coming in who might be feeling as overwhelmed as I was.”

There are 400 first-aid kits available. To request a kit — or for more information or to get involved with the initiative — contact Hannah Tuckman ( or Kate Leo (

This article originally was posted by Innovate Carolina.

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