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Just before Easter, while Danville high schools were on spring break, Vikram Gopalan saw a YouTube video about a group in Alabama making face shields using 3D printers.

“Check out this link,” the San Ramon Valley High School (SRVHS) junior immediately texted to some of his classmates. “I think we as a team have the skill set, experience and determination to do something like this for our area. We have the infrastructure to organize this, and it’s the kind of thing FIRST Robotics Competition has been preparing us for.”

Indeed it was, especially considering how quickly the Danville high school’s robotics team got to work. 

Three days later, on April 12, the students launched a professional-looking website for their initiative named Danville Fighting COVID.  Their goal: to rally local makers and craftspeople to join them in creating personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical front-line workers and to help stock local food banks through donations and well-organized, hygienic deliveries. 

Radhika Gawde, a senior and robotics team member who is serving as project manager, credits their previous experience as competitive engineers to quickly draw up and execute a plan. 

“We had a white board and came up with what I call our ‘high-level battle plan,’” she said.

3D-printed head pieces intended for face shields were made by community members with access to printers as part of the student-led project.

Laying the groundwork, Gawde said, was the easy part, thanks to the team’s experience collaborating on both robotics and the fundraising required to participate in national competitions. The challenge has been getting their hands on available 3D printers, as well as sourcing face shield materials. But, she noted, they have surpassed their goal of 200 face shields and will be donating 460 shields (and other PPE equipment) to John Muir Health in Walnut Creek on April 25. 

The initiative is run by a core of 12 students, most from SRVHS, plus a few friends from Monte Vista High School, also in Danville. In addition to providing links for those who want to make monetary donations to local food banks, the students are organizing drop sites for food donations that they will then sort, sanitize and deliver. The website also has patterns for making face shields, places to donate materials, links for donating meals to first responders and other COVID-related groups.

With spring break over, the students are back in class, and happy to have a sense of purpose. What’s hardest, said Gawde, is that they’ll never get to travel to the robotics competition for which they’d been preparing all year.

“And we still have to pass all our classes,” she noted. “But we’re not doing that much. It’s the health care workers who are working so hard. If there’s a way we can support that, we definitely want to.”