Fairfield University: Students coordinate to produce face shields
FAIRFIELD — While most Fairfield University students have been home for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, some have remained behind and are working to make a difference even after the semester has ended.
Four students, Lilliana Delmonico, Caroline Smith, Evan Fair and Andrew Jobson have been coordinating to use the university’s 3D printing lab to produce face shields for medical workers and first responders. The clips come complete with the Fairfield University logo.
Smith, a junior nursing major from New Jersey, said she came up with the idea after seeing a family friend doing something similar. She said to Delmonico, a senior engineering major, to see how they could get the operation running.
“It was definitely an experience,” Smith said. “It was a lot of knowing who to ask. We had to figure out who to ask about getting access to the 3D printers... and then who was on campus to (operate them).”
Smith said Delmonico told her that Fair and Jobson had decided to remain on campus and, when they were asked, were enthusiastic about joining the project. She said she and Delmonico focus on making contacts and finding places to donate to while Fair and Jobson produce the clips needed to hold face shields in place and package them with the plastic shield for delivery.
“We try to find people who would be interested,” Smith said. “At first, it was hard to find requests. But, I reached out to the nursing school... and they knew people who (needed shields) and said there were a lot of shortages of (personal protective equipment. So, we got in contact with those people.”
According to Delmonico, she goes to campus two or three times a week to drop off donations to the recipients or to deliver supplies to Fair and Jobson. She said she was the one who contacted Richard Heist, Dean of Fairfield University’s School of Engineering, to get permission to start the project.
Heist said he was originally hesitant, but acquiesced when the students gave him more details on the plan. He said he checks in on Fair and Jobson to make sure they are safe but that the project is student run.
“Pretty soon, it became clear that this was actually a big operation,” Heist said. “Every day, day in and day out , they are there printing. They have been donating them to hospitals and nursing homes and to service agencies of different sorts.”
To scale with the demands of the projects, Heist said the School of Engineering bought four new 3D printers. He said the project is just another example of the service to humanity ethos embedded in the engineering profession.
“It gets inculcated into these students, and they don’t even know it,” Heist said. “What impresses me is that they called me and said, ‘We should start this.’ I was a little reluctant but they pushed back... and it’s been a resounding success. They are helping people. And engineering is all about people.”
Delmonico said she has had fun carrying out the project with her peers, adding that it has been a lot of work. As a senior leaving the school, she said the work has given her some of the closure she lost by not being able to have a normal final semester.
The senior said she, Jobson and Fair have worked together to work on prototypes and address their product based on feedback they get from the people using it. She said it has been cool to see the engineering design process in progress.
“Right now, I’m not really sure what I want to do going forward in my career,” Delmonico said. “But I really like dong this kind of work. I love being able to have a direct impact on people’s lives.”
Fair, a sophomore junior engineering major from Pretoria, South Africa said he decided to stay on campus instead of going to home and be put under military quarantine for two weeks as well as having to do classes around 1:00 in the morning.
Fair said he reached out to Delmonico to see if there were any projects going on to keep himself busy. He said the project has been fun and has allowed him to work in engineering, a field he is passionate about.
The engineering major said he and Jobson have doubled production since they started six weeks ago, going from producing 80 units in a week to 160.
“We went through the standard engineering process and kept what we need, eliminated what we don’t,” Fair said. “We developed and made better designs. I think it’s great life experience.”
As an example of the design and review process, Fair said they had received feedback that the masks were irritating users skin behind their ears. He said the group designed a plastic strap to keep the pressure off of the area. He said addressing new challenges keeps the project exciting.
“It’s honestly one of the best work experiences I’ve had,” he said, adding that the project has reinforced his desire to work in biomedical engineering. “
Jobson, a engineering Wilbraham, Mass., said he remained on campus because the company he was going to be employed at had a hiring freeze, preventing him from getting an apartment. He said doing the project has lifted his spirits and given him something to do.
“I could have gone through millions of video games,” Jobson said. “I saw that this project was a great opportunity to learn about manufacturing and supply chains.”
Jabson said he and Fair have the 3D printers running essentially 24 hours a day. He said he thinks there should be a class modeled after the project taught at every engineering school.
“Designing a product, producing it and then having quality control and packaging... for every single engineer, they really have to know that entire process like the back of their hand,” he said. “Going through this has been an incredible experience for me.”
He said all the things he has learned in class clicked in his mind when he applied it to the project. He said working with his peers to problem solve has been really fun.
Smith said the four have enjoyed the support they have recieved from the Fairfield community. She said they hope to inspire others to start their own initiatives in their communities.
“I think it’s so important and amazing that, not just Fairfield, but other colleges, companies and plaes have started making their own PPE,” Smith said. “The community that we’ve built around that is incredible.”
For any questions on the project, contact Dean Richard Heist at email@example.com or at 203-254-4000 ext. 4147.