A social media post by Mitchell Olson ’99 about what he was doing to help others in the COVID-19 pandemic went viral.
Olson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music performance, made a post April 5 on Facebook that he was 3D printing five strips for a neighbor who works at a Sioux Falls hospital. The strips hold a mask’s elastic straps and make them more comfortable to wear by pulling those straps away from one’s ears.
It didn’t take long before he had requests for 1,200 strips. By April 9, he was looking at printing 10,000 strips.
Olson’s husband, Mark Schmidt, received a 3D printer as a Christmas gift but had not tested its capabilities. Olson saw a design by SDSU theater graduates Tyler Denuie '06, Jesse Schanzenbach and Adam Skoglund '11 and thought this idea could be his way to help during the pandemic.
“I was getting inundated from people sending tons and tons of articles of others who had 3D printers who were trying to help,” said Olson, who was a Students’ Association vice president and Hobo Day Grand Pooba. “I’ve been told the masks get uncomfortable after wearing them for even a couple of hours. These strips are a way to alleviate that pain and pressure.
“I didn’t think after I posted online that I was printing these for a neighbor that I’d get hundreds of requests,” he continued, adding the requests are for health care workers, firefighters and others at risk of catching the virus. The strips can be cleaned and shared among employees, if needed. “It quickly got beyond what we were capable of producing, especially since we could only print five in two hours.”
To help with the ever-growing requests, Olson contacted three friends with 3D printers in addition to Southeast Technical Institute faculty member John Schroeder, who was able to use 17 3D printers. Skoglund and Denuie later provided a way to improve printing speeds. The strips are being used by Avera, Sanford, LifeScape, the Sioux Falls VA Medical Center, the Sioux Falls Fire Department, health care clinics and nursing homes.
Since April 9, Olson and the others have been able to print 400 each day.
In addition to friends paying for supplies, Seeds of Change, a global nonprofit started by POET, is providing funds. According to Olson, Seeds of Change was going on a mission trip, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the trip’s funds are being donated to Olson for supplies.
The nonprofit organization stated: “Seeds of Change is happy to support the creation and distribution of facemask guard strips to our frontline workers. While we are disappointed our planned Mission Hope trip has been canceled due to COVID-19, we’re happy that the funding for the trip can be reallocated to make an impact during this critical time.”
When he started printing the initial five, Olson did not think he’d be printing them for more than a week.
“It’s still growing but there are fewer requests now, just in bigger numbers,” he said. “Our goal is to fill these requests in the next week. I’m working from home, but I haven’t had much to work on due to the pandemic. It certainly doesn’t bother me to have something to do to occupy my boredom—instead of just watching 'Judge Judy' all time.”