Science Academy takes on the new normal

HARLINGEN — Challenge equals opportunity equals innovation.

In the new “normal” of COVID-19, students of life both young and old, ordinary and extraordinary, have discovered talents for innovation in both the obvious and the obscure.

One of those adventurers into the world of transformation is Gabriella “Gaby” De La Garza. The freshman at South Texas ISD’s Science Academy found in the current state of things the genesis for collaboration with the medical community.

“A family friend owned a company that was able to make plastic shields for the front of face masks, but the company did not have the ability to build the frames,” said Amanda Odom, spokesperson for STISD.

Gaby, Odom explained, had taken engineering classes at Science Academy. She was familiar with the Congressman Ruben Hinojosa Science Academy Innovation Lab.

“ She and her parents felt confident that the Science Academy had the equipment and engineering expertise to craft these types of pieces,” Odom said.

Gaby approached her engineering teachers and administrators at the campus about partnering with a local manufacturer to assemble face masks needed by medical professionals. Odom said Jim Konecny, engineering instructor, took on the project with Gaby.

“Out of this stemmed a collaborative agreement,” Odom said. “Through virtual and telephone collaboration, 30 complete masks were built for the medical community. De La Garza delivered the masks to Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance earlier this month.”

Science Academy instructors have also taken the initiative to explore new solutions to, well, new challenges. Gabe Valdez, chair of the school’s engineering department, reached out through a platform for Project Lead The Way instructors throughout the nation, Odom said.

On that platform, Valdez saw a post encouraging the 3-D printing of “ear savers” to assist with relieving stress put on the ears of medical workers while wearing face masks for long periods of time.

“He thought it could be a great fit for contributing to the local medical community,” Odom said.

How? What was the problem, specifically?

Well, wrapping those straps around the ears can lead to extreme discomfort and even dermal abrasions, Odom said. Enter the ear saver pieces.

“The straps are wrapped around the ear saver pieces, which are positioned on the back of the head,” Odom said. “The pieces are made up of ABS plastic polymer, the same type used for Lego building blocks – and can be disinfected and reused.”

With this idea in mind, Valdez reached out to Manny Vela, chief executive officer of Valley Baptist Medical Center, who was interested in having some printed for the nursing staff, Odom said. So far, Valdez and fellow Science Academy instructor Elizabeth Arriola have printed 125 of the ear saver pieces for those battling COVID-19 on the frontlines at VBMC. They stand ready to assist, should the organization need additional pieces, or if other local hospitals or nursing homes have the need.