SJR is a 100% volunteer organization supported by volunteers from diverse STEM career fields, whose mission is to bring quality STEM experiences to youth in Southern NJ. Many alumni that participated on teams as youth, return to mentor students, and coach robotics teams. Operation NOvid is being directed by two such individuals, Nate Simpkins and Mike Marandola. Both are engineering majors, participated on robotics teams as youth, and are overseeing Operation NOvid through remote collaboration with middle and high school students in Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland counties. Integrated into this project is near-peer mentoring, which means high school students are sharing knowledge and training middle school students to produce PPE during this pandemic.

FIRST Robotics Competition team 316 LUNATECS is usually hard at work this time of year in the LUNATECS Robotics Lab at Salem Community College, however, when the team’s competition season was cut short, Operation NOvid was developed to produce protective filtration masks and face shields. As Nate, Mike, and LUNATEC team members lead the way, they’re inspiring other teams to develop projects of their own. Robotics students in Woodbury, Franklinville, and Vineland, are in their own homes monitoring 3D print jobs, clearing the print beds when completed, cleaning the beds, re-calibrating, and kicking off the next print job of protective filtration masks, and face shield bands. After receiving permission to relocate the team’s CNC machine to a home workshop in Penns Grove, two students have started to manufacturing re-usable face shields to protect workers from splash and splatter of fluid-borne pathogens. The PPE project received impressive comments from Nate’s engineering instructor Courtney Bolden, Ph.D. “He is definitely one of the more innovative and entrepreneurially minded students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching,” she said.

Operation NOvid is a response to the community which is lacking critical PPE. Middle and high school students participating in SJR’s pre-engineering programs jumped at the request to help hospitals, medical emergency shelters, and community organizations who need it. “The world was not prepared. Our local doctors, nurses, and medical staff are working round the clock, and risking their lives as they care for those in need. These people are asking for our help, and we’re working day and night to make sure they have what they need,” said Nate Simpkins. To date, more than 400 protective filtration masks have been 3D printed and of those 245 have been donated to local hospitals, food banks, a Women’s and Children’s Center, and small businesses who are desperate to protect their workers. The students continue to work to make additional masks, as well as face shields, to meet the growing demand from nursing homes, hospitals, and other community-based organizations that have asked for PPE during this pandemic.

How can you help? Funding is needed to support this project so manufacturing can continue and donations of PPE reach the community. We are also accepting donations of materials. You can contribute to this effort by visiting www.sjrobotics.com to make a donation to support SJR.

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