Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) Engineering Science Instructor, Gayle Hughes, has never met a problem she did not try to solve. As spring break drew to a close, there was one dilemma in particular that weighed on the educator's heart – the lack of protective masks for emergency personnel.
In addition to her work at RCSJ, Hughes is also an adjunct instructor for Rowan University's Engineering clinics. She was among the first to know when the university's Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering began working in collaboration with medical professionals to develop a prototype for a durable, lightweight, reusable face mask that could be created using a 3-D printer. When Rowan University finalized the plans and instructions to print the masks and released them to the public, Hughes got straight to work engineering a plan.
“I had seen on the Rowan University website that the masks had been designed and that they would be printing them for emergency personnel," explained Hughes. “It was an easy way to help the medical personnel who needed PPE at the Office of Emergency Management."
Hughes did not own a 3-D printer, but she knew where to find some. RCSJ had nine 3-D printers sitting unused since the campus had closed and courses had shifted to online delivery as part of a universal effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Hughes started making inquiries into how she might get access to the equipment and supplies she would need; the College administration was more than happy to oblige.
“When Gayle approached us and asked if she could use the College's 3-D printing machines and supplies, how could we say no," remarked Dominick Burzichelli, RCSJ's Vice President of Operations, COO and newly appointed liaison between the College and the Offices of Emergency Management for Gloucester and Cumberland counties. “We were just a small player in this project. Gayle deserves all the credit for stepping up and delivering. She is a great example of our outstanding faculty and staff at Rowan College of South Jersey."
By the time April arrived, Hughes had the 3-D printers and spools of material RCSJ had donated towards her efforts all set up. Despite the fact that it takes approximately three hours to print each mask, within a week she had delivered 65 masks to the Gloucester County Office of Emergency Management, to be used in the drive-thru testing site set up on RCSJ's Deptford campus.
“I don't consider myself a hero. I just wanted to do something to help, and I knew that RCSJ had the equipment needed to print these masks," commented Hughes. “I plan to continue as long as these masks are needed."
While the 3-D printed masks are not a replacement for the coveted N-95 masks that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend to protect healthcare workers against the coronavirus, they do provide a mechanical barrier in the absence of standard personal protective equipment. The masks can also be washed, disinfected and reused, are offered in three sizes to provide a snug fit and incorporate replaceable filters.
To see how Gayle Hughes and other RCSJ faculty, staff and graduates are making a difference in the battle against COVID-19, visit RCSJ.edu/Hero. Instructions to 3-D print your own masks using Rowan University's design are available at Engineering.Rowan.edu.
If you want to put your problem-solving skills to work with a career in engineering, visit RCSJ.edu/STEM to take the first step.