Where’d all these signs come from? Meet the co-ops who distribute COVID-19 directions on campus.

Mollie Harreys and Maxwell Benman, who are on co-op for the Sign Shop in the facilities department of Northeastern, work on COVID-19 guideline sign orders. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The Boston campus looks a little different this semester, and not just because the typical crowds on Centennial Common and the wrap-around lines out the door of Rebecca’s Cafe are gone. 

Bright red and white signs punctuate the green landscape reminding everyone that face coverings are required. Symbolic footprints dot the ground, indicating where people should stand to maintain a healthy distance. 

Employees of Northeastern’s Sign Shop have been working overtime to print and distribute thousands of signs around campus that explain best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“There’s signage everywhere,” says Mollie Harreys, a third-year graphic design major and co-op at the Sign Shop. “We’re trying to get all the information out and make sure everything is as streamlined as possible.” 

Thousands of floor decals and signs have been printed and installed around the Boston campus. The sign shop is ramping up production ahead of students’ arrival over the next several days.Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Harreys and Maxwell Benman, a fifth-year graphic design and business combined major and co-op at the Sign Shop, have been busy distributing signs around campus since they started in July.

The signs were designed as part of Northeastern’s campaign encouraging healthy behaviors throughout the university community. Harreys and Benman have helped facilitate the process of printing and placing the signs.

“The co-op position is normally a graphic design position,” says Benman, “But with COVID it’s all changed. We have an additional task of putting up all this signage around campus, and we’re doing all the production.” 

Right now, Harreys and Benmam are outfitting dorms, academic buildings, and outdoor common spaces with proper signage instructing people where to stand, which direction to walk in, and which doors to use, for example.

Most of the signs are essentially giant vinyl stickers. “Some surfaces, like drywall, are easy to apply the signs to because they can easily peel up and be adjusted,” Harreys says. “Glass, because of how smooth it is, is more difficult because of how firmly it sticks.” 

For glass surfaces, Harreys and Benman use what they call a “splash,” a soapy water solution that temporarily prevents the sign from permanently sticking to the surface so they have time to make adjustments.  

The testing facility at the Cabot Physical Education Center is the main sign-heavy location the co-ops frequent to make sure things are running smoothly, says Harreys.

One of the hardest signs to apply, Benman says, was on the exit door of the testing facility. 

“The air temperature was in the mid-90s, but the door was receiving the full force of the sun, so it was baked to 110 or 120 degrees,” he says. “The vinyl basically just melted as soon as it touched the door, so I only had one shot to put the signs on perfectly.”  

Both co-ops anticipate that work will ramp up as students begin to move in. “There are a lot of signs that need to be put out and brought in each day,” Benman says. 

While the position at the Sign Shop is slightly different than both co-ops expected because of the pandemic, Harreys and Benman enjoy seeing their work on campus. 

“I have people texting me photos of signs around campus asking, ‘Is this you?’ and I say, ‘No, but yes,’” Harreys says, referring to the fact that she places them but doesn’t design them. 

“It’s a lot of work,” Benman says. “But at the end of the day, it’s kind of fulfilling to see your work around campus.” 

Peter Ramjug contributed to this report.

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