This spring was a challenging and disappointing season for many high school seniors looking forward to graduation celebrations and fun life events, yet a team of local students used the situation as an opportunity to equip local healthcare workers on the frontlines during the pandemic.
Aaditya Pore, a senior at Olathe East High School, and Ethan Jagoda, a senior at Blue Valley North High School, started FreePPEKC to manufacture 3D-printed face shields and other personal protective equipment for health care workers.
Aaditya says when school closed in March, they saw the situation getting worse and heard about the shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers. The idea for FreePPEKC came to them as both students are involved in the Technology Student Association and have made science, math, technology and engineering the emphasis of their educational pursuits.
With Ethan planning to go the University of California at Berkley to study engineering physics, and Aaditya set to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder and major in aerospace engineering and astrophysics, 3D printing is a technology that naturally interests them, and they saw it as the perfect way to produce more PPE. It was also an opportunity to use their skills to help fight the pandemic.
“Being involved with FreePPEKC has given me a lot of insight on how almost any skill can be utilized in outreach and for the betterment of others,” Aaditya says. “With our PPE being entirely 3D-printed, I relied on the Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing skills I learned in school, which, before now, were just used to design and make small trinkets. While I understood the capacity of those skills on an industrial level, I never truly even thought I could take my expertise in that area and be able to help healthcare workers in the manner that we have today. It has also shown me that there's always an opportunity out there to help those that need it, and aiding others can come in unexpected forms.”
They set up a GoFundMe and have been able to raise more than $3,200 and produce 3,000 face shields. Their largest single donation to date has been providing 1,000 face shields to Children’s Mercy. The rest have been donated to nursing homes and Truman Medical Center as well as some out-of-state facilities. They are also producing touchless door openers and ear savers.
Ethan and Aaditya said the most impactful experience they had was delivering to Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare in Clinton, Mo. Because of the facility’s more rural location and poor funding compared with surrounding health systems, the hospital was struggling to find reliable PPE for its staff. The staff was extremely grateful and told them how much it helped prepare them for maintaining a high level of safety. That experience encouraged them to complete more orders from outside the Kansas City metro.
Three other students have joined their team to help with public relations, logistics and finance, and they also have a team of printers who help in the effort. Over the months, they have increased their rate of production and added a laser cutter. They say they will continue to keep running the printers, depending on how the situation unfolds.
Aaditya said they are fortunate that all four seniors involved in the effort are attending colleges in different places around the country, and one other team member will remain in Kansas City. He said they will take advantage of their national reach and use it in whatever way possible to benefit communities around the country.
Aaditya says in the future he plans to use the lessons he has learned from the experience to further his passion for outreach and engineering to bolster the community. Both students expressed an interest in being involved with Engineers without Borders, which completes projects in foreign countries for community development.
“It's fair to say that this pandemic has taught us a lot about what our community needs in terms of improvements in the health sector, and I believe that that knowledge will bring plenty of unsatiated needs worldwide, many of which I would love to be involved with,” Aaditya says.