BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—The garage is humming with the sounds of machinery and ventilation, just a few decibels above normal on an otherwise quiet street. It’s Easter Sunday, and Adam Ward is behind a laser cutter—stabilized on two closet doors serving as makeshift tables—that is churning out plastic face shield after face shield for local health care workers.
Ordinarily the equipment would be used to make housings for environmental sampling sensors for O’Neill School researchers like Ward and Todd Royer. But these aren’t ordinary times.
Instead, Ward and two Indiana University colleagues—the School of Education’s Adam Maltese and the Jacobs School of Music’s Mark Smith—have pooled resources to lend a bit of help to those in need.
“We have the capabilities, we own the equipment, and our administration was supportive of us repurposing it for a rapid response,” Ward said. In addition to the face shields, Ward is 3D printing “combs” that connect the loops of a face mask behind their head. The simple device provides comfort to those wearing the masks for multiple hours a day.
“We just asked ourselves, ‘What are the things we can do to help?’” Ward said.
Smith surveyed the materials that would normally be used to make scenery, props, or costumes at the Musical Arts Center and discovered a stash of clear plastic that was perfect for the face shields. What could’ve been used to create something for the Phantom of the Opera has now been repurposed for masks of an entirely different kind.
“It was all surplus from past productions that was waiting to be put to use in a future production, or in this case, a good cause,” Smith said, noting that the Jacobs administration was ecstatic to support the cause.
That cause has now grown to include around 200 face shields, split between IU Health, Bloomington Hospital, and local firefighters. Several hundred of the face mask “combs” have been produced, with some going to the local hospital, and some sent to New York City on behalf of a colleague at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering whose sister is a medical professional there.
“I think we’re all folks who default toward action and aren’t comfortable not throwing energy into a worthy effort if there’s a logical way to help,” Maltese said. He asked a few local health care providers what they needed, and when it became clear the opportunity was there, Maltese, Smith, and Ward collaborated on what has become a successful—and helpful—endeavor.
“When it was clear that we had materials and a solid design to use for making face shields, it was easy to get the team engaged to get these made and off to those in need,” Maltese said.
The operation continues today, with the team responding to whatever demands there are. Their hope, however, is that soon there won’t be any.
“This is all with the hope that none of it gets used—but if it’s needed, it’s there,” Ward said.
But there’s no masking the fact that there is a need. And for this trio of IU faculty, they are answering the call.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington
The O’Neill School (formerly SPEA) is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2021 "Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs" by U.S. News & World Report, O’Neill ranks first in the country. Additionally, six of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including the number one nonprofit management program.