Engineering, occupational safety and health step up with creation, donations of protective equipment for health care workers

Medical protective masks are created by volunteers in the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing.
Medical protective masks are created by volunteers in the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing.
Image Credit: Courtesy Photo

A group of students, faculty and staff from Grand Valley's Padnos College of Engineering and Computing and applied Medical Device Institute (aMDI) worked together to design and make approximately 1,000 facial masks in response to the current shortage of supplies for medical professionals responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The design created by the group is innovative and uses a metal clamp to tighten the mask around the nose, because elastic, which is normally used to secure masks, is in short supply because of supply chain issues caused by the outbreak. 

Production of the masks is ongoing. They will be donated to American Family Care Urgent Care in Grand Rapids, which had already started to run out of masks necessary to ensure the safety of their staff during daily operations, as well as other organizations with need.

The project was assisted by Alison vanMelle, a local sewing expert who spearheaded the sewing operations and trained more than a dozen volunteers on the production process.

The turnaround on the project was fast, with design work starting March 21, and prototypes developed by March 22. The design was approved on March 23.

Grand Valley's occupational safety and health management department also chipped in to help with the current shortage of protective gear. The department donated its current stock of laboratory supplies. Professors Derek McCormick and Dave Huizen gathered 50 N-95 equivalent respirators and 50 face masks, all of which were delivered to Spectrum Health hospitals in Grand Rapids.

"Spectrum Health has been a significant partner of ours for several years, providing tours and other learning opportunities for our students," Huizen said. "We are happy to be able to give back during this unprecedented time."

Huizen said the coronavirus has provided an unfortunate but unique learning opportunity for students studying occupational safety and health as industries work to protect their employees while providing care for those who are sick.

To learn more about GVSU’s occupational safety and health management program, visit For more information on the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, visit