The University of Tennessee at Martin, along with multiple Tennessee higher education institutions, has partnered with THEC and TEMA to create personal protective equipment for Tennessee COVID-19 relief aid. UT Martin has centralized all of the 3D-capable printers on campus into the Rogers Media Center and is currently printing headbands for medical face shields.
“We are pleased to engage with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and other educational partners across the state to provide safety materials to Tennessee’s health-care workers. Our faculty and staff are working to create filament bands for safety masks on our campus 3D printers,” said UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver. “We want to be a resource for the region and state’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic situation.”
The media center, located in the Paul Meek Library, continues to add more printers to the operation each day increasing maximum production and support. Currently, the center is running eight printers around the clock to produce as many headbands as possible. THEC (Tennessee Higher Education Commission) has also purchased two additional 3D printers to aid UT Martin’s capacity.
The printers are being operated by faculty, staff and students who all agree that while the work is time-consuming, it is rewarding knowing that they are making a difference for Tennessee medical professionals fighting COVID-19.
“It’s an eye-opening experience because we’ve been doing 3D printing, but not on this scale before. It’s amazing what we are able to do, and it is a humbling experience that we are able to help as many people as we can in this situation that we are in,” said student worker Jordan Bell, of Dresden.
The center is also responsible for cutting out sheets of acetate, as well as elastic to complete the shields that will be assembled after being transported to TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.)
“We are grateful that our staff and our students are really passionate about helping people. Without all of us, we couldn’t get this done,” Olivia Fernandez, UT Martin Information Technology Services manager, said.
UT Martin has a quota of 1,000 masks but will continue printing as many headbands as needed until the crisis has ended, according to Fernandez.
The relief project originally began at Austin Peay State University after Gov. Bill Lee called universities to action in the fight against the novel coronavirus. After creating the prototype for the medical mask, universities across Tennessee, including UT Martin and UT Knoxville, joined the effort and have produced hundreds of 3D printed shields so far.
Scott Sloan, chief of Staff and Emergency Services coordinator for THEC, says the contributions from campuses like UT Martin are making a difference in the state.
“There is impact here. My interactions and communications with TEMA have reinforced that this effort is genuinely making a difference,” said Sloan. “Every band that these schools can produce right now is furthering an assessment and virus testing for a Tennessean somewhere in the state.”
Other members of the UT Martin community are also contributing to the cause. Dr. Renee LaFleur, associate professor of history, and her daughter, Eleanor, are creating medical face masks out of quilting material to donate to hospitals where supplies are needed the most. LaFleur, wanting to show her young daughter how important it is to help others, donated the first batch of face masks to Dr. Nikhil Patel’s, of Gastroenterology Associates of Martin, supply drive that is sending medical equipment to New York.
“(Her father and I) consistently try to teach her that when you have, you need to share, and we have time and resources to make these masks, so it is our responsibility to share and help others,” said LaFleur.
From the mass production of face shields for TEMA to a mother-daughter team sewing masks together for doctors across the country, the UT Martin community is working together during a time of crisis to ease the effects of COVID-19.