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FASTEnER lab wraps up PPE production

ISSUED: 17 September 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WVIn December 2019, Shepherd University clinical faculty/3D fabrication manager Kay Dartt appeared on Opposable Thumbs, a podcast that explores creative challenges, to discuss a sculpture she created based on the prompt “breathing.” The sculpture, an exploration of how animals breathe, took inspiration from alveoli found in the lungs, looks like a vein-covered organ with a breathing tube connected, and seems to have been an omen of things to come. 

Beginning in mid-March, Dartt spent about six months managing the production of protective face masks and shields in the university’s Fine Arts, Science, Technology, Engineering, Educational Resource (FASTEnER) lab that were distributed to frontline medical personnel and first responders to protect them from breathing in the COVID-19 virus. With the start of fall semester, the project wound down after the lab produced hundreds of personal protective equipment (PPE) and mask molds. 

“It’s an amazing community collaboration that just couldn’t have happened without everybody being motivated to do it,” Dartt said. “I am glad we were able to be in the position to help out. All the factors came together to support the lab, including the administrative side of things to make connections and to figure out the funding.” 

Partners included the West Virginia National Guard, Berkeley County Schools, Jefferson County Schools, Saint Joseph School, Jefferson Medical Center, and Shepherdstown Fire Department.  

“The university asked for help and Berkeley County Schools immediately said ‘yes’ and wrangled all of the 3D printers in the county and brought them over for us to use,” Dartt said. That was a huge help. It was pretty amazing to all of a sudden get 20 printers, which expanded our capabilities so much.” 

Wildwood Middle School in Jefferson County loaned two 3D printers and Saint Joseph School in Martinsburg loaned one. The printers from area schools, along with those from various departments across campus, were initially used to make face masks and shields for area medical personnel and first responders. Volunteers from campus and the community helped with the process.  

Initially, Dartt and the volunteers started 3D printing masks and face shields, but it takes a long time for a printer to make one item.  

“I knew if we needed to produce a lot of face shields, we needed to use different methods,” Dartt said. A casting method can be much quicker, so I asked Chase Molden if he would like to work on finding a method for casting. We first applied those techniques to face shields, then we switched gears and started applying them to the N95 masks. 

Dartt and Molden, theater technical director, created silicone molds and fine-tuned the process for the National Guard, which used the molds to make N95 masks that were distributed throughout the state.  

“We were more designers and advisors to processes that they could use,” Dartt said. There were other entities across the state helping out and we were all working as a group. The National Guard did the major project management, which gave us the ability to focus on how we could make this well, quickly, and without any special equipment.” 

Dartt and Molden provided training to Guard members using the molds to make masks and West Virginia University tested them 

“It was a statewide initiative and collaboration, which was amazing to see,” Dartt said. “I’m proud and humbled to participate because of the enormity of the projects and how many others worked on it.” 

Another collaboration with Jefferson Medical Center and the Shepherdstown Fire Department led to the design and manufacture of protective canopies to place over the gurneys of all the ambulances in Jefferson County to protect paramedics and emergency medical technicians from COVID-19. As the fall semester approached, the FASTEnER lab worked with departments to provide protective shields across campus.  

All total, Shepherd produced more than 3,000 face shields for first responders, faculty, staff, students, and community members; 20 protective gurney canopies for Jefferson County ambulances; 100 mobile dividers for music; a few custom hanging dividers; close to 200 standard dividers; 105 mobile wall dividers; and 11 hanging dividers. The FASTEnER lab team also advised dining services on installing 41 hanging dividers for campus food service areas and the silicone molds developed by Dartt and Molden were used by the West Virginia National Guard to make more than 5,000 N95 masks. 

“Shepherd University is profoundly fortunate to have talented faculty like Kay Dartt, whose compassion and commitment to help others serve as an exceptional role model for our students,” said Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, Shepherd president.I am most grateful to Kay and her colleagues for their tireless efforts and dedication to campus and community service. Their hard work has given us the extra protection we need to keep our campus open and safe.”  

Dartt, meanwhile, is now back to her normal duties, teaching classes and helping students utilize the FASTEnER lab. Her sculpture based on the prompt “breathing” currently sits next to one of the N95 masks on display in the faculty art exhibit in Phaze 2 Gallery.  

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