PPE 101: Oregon’s Students and Teachers Create In-Demand Equipment


Though classes are canceled, resourceful students and teachers across the state are working hard to contribute PPE

OREGON – In Wilsonville, students at Oregon Institute of Technology are using 3-D printers to build valves that can convert C-PAP/BiPAP machines – commonly used to treat sleep apnea – into ventilators.

At Oregon Coast Community College in Lincoln City, a Community Education 3-D Printing instructor and teachers from nearby Taft High School set up a 3-D printer farm to produce face shields for local doctors and nurses.

And at University of Oregon, workers in the Technical Science Administration machine shop, which usually produces high-precision instruments for UO science labs, are also busy fabricating face shields to donate.

Those are just a few of examples of how students and faculty at Oregon’s higher education institutions are innovating during the COVID crisis to use brainpower – and public school facilities – to help supply much-needed personal protection equipment (PPE), such as gloves, sanitary gowns, face shields and medical-grade masks.

“We are proud and inspired to see that institutions are contributing their knowledge and high-tech innovation to help address the shortage of personal protective equipment in our state during this challenging time,” said Veronica Dujon, director of Academic Policy and Authorization at the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. “Oregon colleges and universities are rising to meet the challenges of this pandemic in new ways every day, and we commend them for their collaboration and service.”

While students and professors aren’t present in classrooms due to coronavirus closures, they are still connecting virtually – and problem- solving.

At Oregon Coast Community College’s North Center, in Lincoln City, a vacant community room was converted to house an eight 3-D printer farm, which churns out plastic pieces. The project, dubbed “Shield Me Please,” is being led by Lindsey Johnson, who teaches 3-D printing for the college’s community education department, and Noah Lambie, who teaches physics and robotics at Taft High School.

Lindsey Johnson of Shield Me Please models one of the 3D-printed face shields

“I think this illustrates how the barriers to entry are lower and you can be a large institution or a community college to provide this kind of a service,” said Dave Price, the college’s director of marketing and community engagement and also the director of its Small Business Development Center.   

Usually, workers in the University of Oregon’s scientific instrument machine shop might be welding titanium plasma shields or making photovoltaic test equipment. Now, they’re switched gears to make face shields.

“The UO has a lot of specialized equipment that allows us to fabricate lots of different types of composites with high throughput,” said Michael Pluth, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and an associate vice president for research, in a news release. “Using that capacity to impact the COVID-19 response is really important.”

To help advance the PPE-making efforts of Oregon Tech students, the university was awarded a $10,000 in emergency funds from the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg “to support rapid response efforts to alleviate the hardships many rural families and organizations are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the university said.

In addition to converting CPAP/BiPAP machines into ventilators, the student and faculty team at Oregon Tech, an engineering school, is manufacturing respirator masks with changeable filters and printing protective face shields.

Oregon universities and community colleges aren’t the only public education facilities manufacturing PPE for local healthcare workers: Some tech-savvy high schoolers are also jumping in to help.

From southern Oregon to the Columbia Gorge to Portland, student robotics teams have switched gears to PPE manufacturing and assembling. Those include teams from small schools like Triangle Lake in rural Lane County and Banks in Washington County, to larger schools in Ashland, Corvallis, South Eugene, and Hood River.

Students from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District robotics clubs that are making PPE

In the Portland area, students at West Linn, Wilsonsville, Cleveland, and Caitlin Gabel High Schools are stepping up.  

“The students spend so much time, years actually, learning engineering skills,” said Dale Yocum, the robotics team coach and the Engineering Program Director at Caitlin Gabel. “Being able to put those skills to work in such an impactful way is truly gratifying.”

At West Linn and Wilsonville high schools, students and adult mentors from the sometimes-rival robotics clubs have teamed up to make and distribute about 120 face shields.

“These projects perform a community service while also providing valuable experience to high school and college students,” said Governor Kate Brown. “This is the kind of innovation that distinguishes Oregon.”

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James Sinks is the Financial Education Program Manager with the State Treasury

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