By: Michael Bruckler, St. Mary’s College of Maryland
St. Mary’s City, Md- Associate Professor of Biology Kevin Emerson has jump-started a campus-wide initiative at St. Mary’s College of Maryland to provide the St. Mary’s County Health Department with essential supplies for medical personnel working the front lines to care for those infected with COVID-19 and to help stem the spread of the disease.
Emerson solicited donations from the biology, chemistry and physics academic departments, as well as the athletics department and The Wellness Center, which, in turn, provided to the health department approximately 8,000 protective gloves, 50 exam gowns, 100 surgical masks, 50 n95 masks, 500 alcohol swabs and 15 bottles of hand sanitizer.
“It is clear that personal protective equipment is becoming the limiting factor in many instances across the country, and campuses everywhere have a store of equipment that can be used,” said Emerson. “With laboratory courses currently on hold while students are studying remotely, that equipment can be better used by the hospital and other local health care providers.”
In addition to donations, the College – spearheaded by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Troy Townsend – is employing its 3D printing capabilities to manufacture face shields for medical personnel in case there is a shortage in the area.
“We knew we could help, and we feel like it’s the right thing to do,” said Townsend. “The idea was initiated by my colleague Professor of Chemistry Randy Larsen, and the College, of course, approved the project.”
Townsend is working with students Jennica Bark ’20 (chemistry major and materials science minor) and Nhu Chau ’20 (biochemistry and biology major). Together, they are printing over 100 face shields per week. The team is following directions found on this website: https://www.stratasys.com. To support their on-going efforts, both the SMCM math department and The Patuxent Partnership each donated 3D printers for the initiative. The SMCM team plans to donate 1,000 face shields over the next month to the St. Mary’s County Health Department.
According to Bark, “Given the circumstances, I think it is very easy to feel powerless. I am always looking for ways I can contribute so I was thrilled when Dr. Larsen proposed the idea of 3D printing face shields. This project has taught me the importance of evaluating the resources you have on-hand to see if there’s a way they can be used for something positive. I am thankful to be given the opportunity to apply my knowledge that I’ve learned at St. Mary’s College to help medical personnel.”
“I am honored to be a part of this meaningful task along with Dr. Townsend and Jennica to provide our health care providers protection and support,” said Chau. “At this period of uncertainty, I am very happy to be able to do something that shows my gratitude and how thankful I am for all the health care providers, doctors, nurses and others that are on the front line to help individuals who are affected by COVID-19.”
“If households have a 3D printer, they can do it, too. For our initial shields, we used rubber bands to hold the back and transparency slides from the College’s copy room for the shield.” said Townsend. “We have a small operation but every mask counts, and we are grateful for everyone who has donated equipment and supplies.”
Recently St. Mary’s College of Maryland partnered with the St. Mary’s County Health Department to launch a COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Group. The advisory group engages scientists from SMCM and the community to analyze emerging COVID-19 research and review its implications on local decision-making.
“The wealth of knowledge and experience that exists among College faculty can play an important role in advising and consulting on the rapidly growing research being produced on the virus, associated illness and public health responses,” said Emerson.
Four additional faculty members are participating in the advisory group alongside Emerson: Professor of Biology Jeffrey Byrd, Associate Professor of Mathematics Emek Köse, Assistant Professor of Physiology Jessica Malisch, and Director of the Center for Inclusive Teaching and Learning Samantha Elliott.