TN community & technical colleges help protect health professionals

TCAT Elizabethton's Tyler Hankes works with 3D printer in computer lab

Tennessee’s community and technical colleges are playing a major role in a crash project by the state’s public higher education system to manufacture face shields to help protect Tennessee health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using 3D printers, Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology at Elizabethton, Jackson, Morristown, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville,  and Jackson State and Pellissippi State community colleges manufactured 858 headbands from Saturday through Monday afternoon that will be used for plastic face shields. Other campuses are supplying 3D printers, materials and supplies for the ongoing effort.

The project, announced by Gov. Bill Lee Monday afternoon, is part of the governor’s work to find new and innovative ways to serve Tennesseans during the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, in concert with the Tennessee Board of Regents and respective universities, began to locate 3D printers for the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) face shields. After only three days of intensive efforts that included a range of community and business partners, the overall effort has produced a total of more than 1,500 critically needed pieces of PPE for health care professionals. The work will continue in the coming days and weeks.

The headbands are being sent to Austin Peay State University, which THEC says originated the prototype and where the headbands will be attached to transparent plastic face shields. THEC says the first batch of assembled face shields are expected to be delivered Wednesday to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency for distribution to healthcare facilities and professionals facing shortages of the equipment. Health professionals wear face shields over masks as further protection from infectious diseases while working with patients. Other Tennessee universities are also participating and more are expected to join the collaborative effort.

Tennessee’s 27 public colleges of applied technology and 13 community colleges comprise the College System of Tennessee, governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents. The colleges are also providing other protective gear, including protective suits used in certain health and other technical fields.

TBR Chancellor Flora Tydings said the college system is proud to have a role in helping protect health professionals working on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. “When Governor Lee and THEC Executive Director Mike Krause asked us to join this important work last week, our colleges – all of whom were busy preparing for the shift to online education – stepped up, expanded their focus and jumped into action to help. Many nurses, doctors and other health professionals are alumni of our colleges and we’re delighted to help protect them and their colleagues who are doing so much to protect us all,” Dr. Tydings said.

“It all goes to show the strength of our team, and when we need to, we can be an army assisting in our state’s overall effort in fighting coronavirus and COVID-19,” the chancellor added.

Dr. Carol Puryear, TBR vice chancellor for economic and community development and interim president of TCAT Murfreesboro, is leading the college system’s role in the effort. “We sent the pattern to our campuses on Friday and faculty started producing the headbands Saturday. Faculty members worked through the weekend and we have made more than 850 as of this afternoon,” Dr. Puryear said “I cannot say enough about the dedication and hard work of our faculty involved in this effort. They’re working virtually around the clock.”

The THEC release is here.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.