A combination of timing, resource allocation, technological know-how and organization provided Kennebec Valley Community College students and faculty in Fairfield the opportunity to make a difference when the coronavirus pandemic hit central Maine.

Silas Coffin of Winslow, a student at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, creates plastic parts for protective face shields for health care workers at his home using 3D printers. Coffin has been key to organizing the effort that now has 20 people affiliated with KVCC creating the shields.

The rapid onset of COVID-19 highlighted nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, including face masks, gowns and respirators.

By the time Maine’s congressional delegation called upon the federal government March 21 to provide the state more equipment, in addition to what came from the Strategic National Stockpile, Silas Coffin of Winslow, founder and president of the school’s 3D printing club, and Stephen Larochelle, the director of library services and the club’s adviser, decided to take advantage of the school’s resources to help out.

“We noticed the obvious community problem at hand and jumped into action,” Coffin said in an email. “We heard there was a need (for PPE) and thought, ‘Well, duh, let’s do this.’ We have the equipment and the manpower.”

KVCC has 24 FlashForge 3D printers available for students to check out of the library, according to LaRochelle. The printers are compact and wireless, making them easy to transport.

“We had spring break just before all of this happened, so almost all printers were checked out to students to work on projects from home,” LaRochelle said last week. “So it very quickly switched to us calling for students who had checked out the printers to make these face shields.” 

Now 20 people are producing face shields with KVCC’s 3D printers. All told, they have produced more than 1,000 face shields over the past month.

Martha Brucy of Damariscotta, a physical therapy student at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, is using a 3D printer she checked out of the library at KVCC over spring break to create parts for plastic face shields for health care workers in central Maine.

Martha Brucy, 48, of Damariscotta is one of the students producing the face shields from home.

Brucy had checked out a 3D printer for spring break to work on a project related to her physical therapy degree. When Coffin and LaRochelle asked those who had checked out the printers to help with the production of face shields, Brucy was up for the task.

“I have probably printed around 150,” Brucy said during a telephone call Wednesday. “It feels great because I have been wanting to do something to help out people in the community, and with all of these restrictions and social distancing, it’s hard to know how to do that … so this has been great.”
Coffin, who founded the 3D print club in September 2019, has been especially busy with the four 3D printers he has at his home in Winslow. He said he has produced more than 200 face shields just in the past week.

“There’s a real grassroots nature to all of this,” said Mark Kavanaugh, a KVCC professor and head of the college’s center for civic engagement.
In addition to helping print the face shields, Kavanaugh has helped organize the collection and distribution of the shields to health care workers in central Maine, including those at Cedar Ridge Center and Woodlawn Rehabilitation in Skowhegan, Sandy River Center in Farmington and Northern Light Continuing Care Lakewood in Waterville.

The 3D printing club has used funding from the Perloff Family Foundation, the Maine Space Grant Consortium and KVCC’s student senate to cover some of the costs in producing the shields.

“Including the donations from our philanthropic partners, the students themselves have been buying their own supplies and there’s never been a question of costs,” Kavanaugh said. “They’re eager to get involved.”

Kennebec Valley Community College alumna Katie Kavanaugh, a nurse and wife of Mark Kavanaugh, tries out one of the face shields produced by students and others affiliated with the Fairfield college using 3D printers.

Coffin’s work in the 3D printing club before the pivot to producing masks earned him the 2020 Maine Campus Compact Heart and Soul Student Award.

The award is given by the Maine Campus Compact, a coalition of 18 university and college presidents in Maine, to six students who are involved in civic engagement efforts on their campuses through community service, service-learning, activism, democratic engagement or social justice.

“We regularly provide technical assistance to a vast amount of public schools, helping with broken printers,” Coffin said.

“We also visit schools and do free workshops with kids and teachers. We printed items that were used in a trunk or treat charity fundraiser. We worked with Thomas College who had broken printers from years ago.

“We also had a huge role in putting on the 3D Printing Design Challenge and Expo that took place in March with over 150 people in attendance. This event was designed to engage kids educationally with 3D printing. We have been commissioned by our own school to make science models, bones, organs, cells.”

Coffin was nominated by staff member Jannie Durr, director of student life at KVCC.

The daughter of KVCC occupational therapy student Karen Noe with personal protective equipment on their kitchen table.

“I saw him serving the greater community, not only the campus community,” Durr said in a telephone interview Wednesday. 

The 3D printing club now has about 70 members from almost every academic program offered at KVCC, Coffin said.

“We pride ourselves on our diversity as a club,” he said. “I believe it has made our club the force that it is.”

For Coffin, the effort to produce shields for health care workers will continue.

“We are not doing this for any other reason but to help protect our beloved community members, particularly health care workers on the frontline,” Coffin said.

“I used to be a CNA (certified nursing assistant) for five years, so I can’t even imagine having to go to work and there not be PPE,” he said. “We won’t stop until we are no longer needed.”

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