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Two Tar Heels help first-year students become first-aid ready

Carolina undergraduates Kate Leo and Hannah Tuckman launched an effort to provide students with first-aid kits, streamline campus health care information and resources.

Kate Leo stands in front of first aid kits
Public health student Kate Leo ready to deliver the first round of first-aid kits earlier this semester. (Submitted by Kate Leo)

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 essential for life away from home: basic first-aid supplies.

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 in 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,” said 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 associate with COVID-19), treatments, and a list of medications and resources available at UNC Campus Health.

A first aid kit. The idea for the initiative was born during the First-Year Seminar 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, 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 change-making,” said 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.”

What sparked the idea? While sitting in the main lobby of her freshmen 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 across campus other than at Campus Health. After Leo and Tuckman began talking with other students, resident advisors, nurses at Campus Health and 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 and taught us how to think critically about what a social venture is,” said Leo, a health policy and management major. “We were able to focus on how to identify a need and determine how to best serve our community.”

“Melissa Carrier helped us so much in this process,” added 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 for their idea, Leo and Tuckman decided to move forward with making the first-aid kits a reality.

Hannah Tuckman prepping kits

Hannah Tuckman preps first-aid kits.

“Through the first-year course, I fell in love with the aspect of social ventures and how to create impact,” said 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 RA’s, plus donations of first-aid supplies to dormitory front desks. But after researching resources available on campus and talking with potential partners, they realized their initiative better aligned with Campus Health, which provides expert student-centered, inclusive, comprehensive health care and wellness promotion.

This shift in strategy led Leo and Tuckman to Campus Health where Sara Stahlman, a marketing and communication coordinator, began partnering with the student duo to develop the kits. Over six months, the team worked with Stahlman and Campus Health to further their idea. Campus Health offered funding for the project, while providing the first-aid kits, collateral materials and marketing support.

The initiative not only allows Leo and Tuckman to meet an unmet need for students, it 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 public health and health policy management.

“The first-year seminar really showed me what policy looks like, and the experience really led me to where I am today with public health,” said Leo. “Health policy management is at the intersection of health and business, which is where our first-aid kit initiative 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,” said Tuckman. “I’m a bio-statistics major, and many in my major 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 in 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 freshmen dorms. There are still first-aid kits available. To request a first aid kit, for more information about the initiative or to get involved, contact Hannah Tuckman: or Kate Leo:

“Coming to such a big school, I didn’t really think there would be opportunities for students to drive an initiative based on an idea,” said 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 first aid kits can be a motivator for those students coming in who might be overwhelmed like I was.”

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