Boise State departments take charge on community resources

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Even as classes have been moved online and Boise State’s campus has begun to shut down, this is not the last the community will hear from the university as Idaho approaches an unknown period of self-isolation and social distancing. 

Departments on campus are making strides to support the community and do their part to aid in the worldwide fight against COVID-19 through resources available right on campus. 

Darrin Pufall Purdy, associate professor and director of theatre arts and costume design, began an initiative of sewing unique face masks with a small team to assist Boiseans who are most vulnerable to the virus. 

“There are lots of people in our city and across the country currently making masks,” Pufall Purdy wrote in an email. “It is a nationwide effort that we are proud to be a small part of.” 

Due to social distancing guidelines, the professor is only being assisted by the small team of his husband and son as well as Grace Slaughter, the department’s costume studio manager. Regulations have also left the team with a limited amount of supplies, which Pufall Purdy said they have used as a reason to get creative with unique materials.

“We are making do with what we have on hand, which are scraps and leftover fabrics from previous theatrical productions,” Pufall Purdy wrote. “Putting together patterns and textures has been a fun exercise for a project of such a serious nature.”

Pufall Purdy’s team is currently donating masks to assisted-living communities — including Spring Creek Manor Senior Living on W. Overland Road — but are anticipating news from hospitals and other medical establishments on their acceptance of home-made face masks. 

Photo by Darrin Pufall Purdy.

Across campus in Albertsons Library, another department is bringing ideas to life for the same cause. The MakerLab is a space available to all majors for a variety of collaboration, ideating and developing, and Amy Vecchione, associate professor and head of Emerging Technologies and Experiential Learning, is overseeing the work currently being done in the lab with developing personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We have always worked to do ‘making for the social good’ [by]using our resources to design, make, create and invent items that benefit our communities,” Vecchione wrote in an email. “In the past, we have made things that brought people delight and happiness, but also health devices, such as prosthetic arms. When we closed the library, we pivoted to doing this full-time.”

Vecchione and a team of volunteers are currently working with 3D printers and additional resources available in the lab to develop ventilator devices, face shields and face masks. 

The team is currently waiting on a statewide face shield model to be approved, which Vecchione expects will be very soon.

“We are working with the local hospital administrators at Saltzer, St. Al’s and St. Luke’s to work with them on the designs they prefer,” Vecchione said.

Photo by Allison Corona.

To assist with the MakerLab’s initiatives, Vecchione reached out to junior mechanical engineering majors Kai Lansdell and Sierra Sandison. Both Lansdell and Sandison own 3D printers, so they have been able to assist remotely in printing headbands to hold the face shields in place from home, as well as other PPE. 

“[I] have been printing as many of the ‘headbands’ as possible,” Lansdell wrote in an email. “I have been using my personal 3D printer to contribute to this project from home.” 

With statewide orders to stay home, Sandison said she has felt helpless and impacted much more than she anticipated. But with quarantine giving her more time to focus on printing the equipment, she is eager and optimistic about her efforts with Boise State. 

“Being away from campus, knowing I only have a year left of school, is breaking my heart,” Sandison wrote in an email. “This project has reminded me of why I love this community so much and increased my Bronco pride even further.”

Both Lansdell and Sandison remarked that one of their biggest goals for the outcome of the project is to use the equipment and tactics they are passionate about to provide a strong level of protection to Boise’s healthcare workers who spend their days in risky conditions for the sake of the community. 

“3D printers are often considered more of a cool gimmick than valuable tools,” Lansdell said. “I hope this project and other initiatives by individuals and corporations show that as fun as they can be, 3D printers can be a tool for creating practical devices that individuals may not otherwise have access to.”

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