While sitting in the Technology and Engineering Education labs and classrooms at Illinois State, Eric Race ’18 heard his professors driving home the importance of always looking at the bigger picture.
In just his second year out of school, Race is putting that lesson to practice on a grand scale by creating personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis.
Now a technology education teacher at Wheeling High School in the Chicago suburbs, Race learned as a Redbird undergraduate that thinking of ways to incorporate lessons outside of the classroom leads to stronger communities.
“That gave us more of a worldly view of how we can help out,” said Race, who is originally from Schaumburg. He specifically recalls the teachings of two College of Applied Science and Technology professors—Dr. Chris Merrill and Dr. Joshua Brown.
They helped prepare Race for his current project, which has garnered media attention and was scheduled to be featured on CNN the weekend of April 25 to 26. He is partnering with several teachers in District 214 to mass produce face shield headbands and distribute them to fire departments, police stations, grocery stores, and other institutions forced to operate as usual during the pandemic.
With an idea hatched over their spring breaks, the creators began designing a prototype for the headbands using a 3D printer, which Race had experience with while earning his degree in technology education.
“When I was going through the tech-ed program, I got pretty comfortable with that technology,” he said. The team got its 3D design online from a place that had already been mass producing this type of PPE. From there, they implemented that software into their own manufacturing.
It took about a week for Race and the other teachers to design and calculate program settings to create the most efficient model. For the last two weeks, they have been mass producing the product at a rate of about 1,750 PPEs per week, good for roughly 250 per day. Nine headbands can be completed every seven hours. On Mondays and Thursdays, Race puts his boxed-up products on his porch for district employees to collect and distribute to the surrounding communities.
He is doing all of this while still teaching his students remotely, which requires he draw on another lesson learned in preparing for his profession—time management.
“I think that’s one thing tech teachers figure out how to do,” Race said. “We do that all year long with kids in the lab all of the time working on various projects while focusing on teaching. This is just one other instance where we have practice in doing that.”
So much of what Race teaches to his students in a tech-ed setting revolves around finding solutions. He’s currently leading by example and has been encouraged to see others doing the same for the greater good of their communities.
“That’s the coolest thing right now,” Race said. “People are stepping up and figuring out their own way to solve their own problems.”