For upperclassmen on the Destrehan High School Robotics team, what was supposed to be their year of leading the way ended abruptly. But in the face of that adversity, a group of students have pulled together to arguably achieve something even greater.
Seniors Bryce Gough, Aiden Oddlokken and Clay James, junior Savannah McReynolds and DHS alum and current UNO freshman Daniel Floyd have pooled their talents to manufacture face shields and ear savers for those working in the region’s medical community. All but Floyd are current DHS robotics members. They are utilizing their own personal 3D printers as well as several supplied via the St. Charles Parish school district to manufacture visor pieces that wrap around the head, allowing for a piece of acetate sheet to be attached to create a full face shield – known as PPE (personal protective equipment).
The students’ goals were modest to begin with, but plans quickly expanded after Shell Norco donated more than $7,000 to the cause. In the first two days of production alone, the five made 180 visor pieces, assembled 66 face shields and manufactured 140 ear savers. The first face shields were donated to St. Charles Parish EMS and they will deliver the next bunch to Access Health Louisiana on Monday.
“When (Robotics) season got cut off, we were disappointed,” Gough said. “Then we kind of sat home for two weeks and we’re all getting bored. I’m like, I feel like we can do something. We started talking about using the stuff at our house to start making stuff … we’re looking things up and seeing all these things people are doing around the world, and it’s like ‘OK, wow … what could we take this to?’
“I think we all felt like, we have the skills and the know-how to help out, but we’re here sitting on our butts at home while all this is going on.”
Gough’s father, Brian, is the Interactive Media Facilitator at the school district’s Satellite Center. He was involved in trying to facilitate aid on his own, after he received an email from an educational group he was a part of that was trying to organize something.
“I sent it to our district,” Brian said. “I knew we had a lot of filament and 3D printers. (Schools superintendent Ken Oertling) reached out and then he got with Rochelle Touchard at Shell. They asked what we’d need to get it started. And while I’m figuring that out, I spoke to Bryce, and they’re talking about how they could get involved … and things kind of took off from there.”
Brian spoke with DHS Robotics teacher Brian Young about utilizing the program’s 3D printers. Young gave it the OK, and between those five printers, three more from the Satellite Center and the five personal 3D printers of the students, 13 units were now in play.
It gave them the machine power to produce, but now the issue was supply – you can only produce as much as the materials you have to work from. Shell stepped up from there, donating $7,250 to go toward those supplies, and suddenly this project took on a much larger scale.
“We were thinking at the beginning of this, we might make 400 or 500 of these, donate them, and that’s the extent,” Bryce said.
Instead, the group estimates they can print between 4,500-5,000 visor pieces over the next month, as long as they continue order 3d filament needed to print the pieces.
“We needed a spreadsheet to get all the information down and to keep track of everything,” Bryce said. “I kept looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a lot more than I thought we’d make in a day.’”
Brian said these printers have been at work virtually 24-7.
“The entire system has become so streamlined,” said Oddlokken. One day we were talking about how we could get started and only a few days later we were making plans to print 5000 face shields. I realized how bad of a situation we are in when my mom told me that the mobile testing stations won’t have PPE for the staff. So I’m glad I’m spending my time helping others rather than laying around. People keep on telling me that they feel bad that my graduation ceremony and senior year are on the line, but the way I see it I’d rather be doing this. Everyone who graduates high school gets to wear a cap and gown, how many get to print equipment that can save lives?”
The PPE will help people in need in several areas of health care, from drive thru testing personnel with Access Health, who have masks but not full faceshield PPE, to cleaning crew members at Tulane Medical Center.
“We’re planning to keep going and make as much as possible until the funding runs out,” Brian said.
McReynolds said she and her teammates have thrown themselves into the project.
“The 3D printers have taken over a room in my house and I run them as much as possible. The healthcare workers during this time are putting themselves at risk to help others, and we saw an opportunity to help them stay as as safe as possible. I’m very grateful for Shell’s donation to help us buy supplies to print out as much PPE as we can, and I’m glad to be able to help out in this small way during this pandemic.”
The cancellation of robotics season due to the coronavirus pandemic was no doubt going to leave team members feeling empty, with an incredible amount of work seeing no payoff in competition.
These students were determined to leave their mark, nonetheless, putting on full display the skills they’ve mastered – and in a time those skills are needed more than ever.
“My teammates and I were disappointed, to say the least,” said James of their season ending. “I understand that the world is going through something right now that makes the robotics season look of minimal importance, but it is something that we poured our hearts and souls into for the past few months. To watch it go from a high-intensity activity to almost non-existent within a few hours was a reality check if anything else.
“Looking back at what we accomplished over the past few days, however, I am starting to see the lines which connect our robotics competition to the world around us. Using mechanical and soft skills that we picked up on the team, we can make a true difference in the wake of the destructive forces that COVID-19 brought to our communities.”
“The choice to help was simple. We all understood there was a need we could supply, and the decision was obvious. If we had the ability to help, then we had to,” he said.