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USD Alumnus and Visiting Professor Alleviates COVID-19 Equipment Shortage with Laser Cutter

Barry Lawrensen wearing one of his face shields and holding a box of 30 face shields to ship. Barry Lawrensen has made over 200 face shields to alleviate the personal protective equipment shortage local health care systems have experienced due to COVID-19.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Barry Lawrensen ’82, a visiting professor in the Department of Art at the University of South Dakota, has dedicated his time to creating comfortable face shields and strap extensions out of durable, flexible plastic using his laser cutter.

Lawrensen, a Vermillion, South Dakota, native lives in Orange City, Iowa, and enjoys dabbling in laser cutting and engraving. As COVID-19 edged closer to his home, Lawrensen learned that even in the early stages of the pandemic, the Orange City Area Health Care System was wary of running low on personal protective equipment.

Just as he was looking for ways he could help, Lawrensen realized that he would be able to provide a service to those in need while also engaging in a hobby and interest of his.

“I wanted to do my part to help others where I was able,” said Lawrensen. “Not everyone has a laser cutter, so making face shields and making face masks more comfortable is something I could do to serve those around me.”

Using leftover and on-hand PETG (a glycol modified version of Polyethylene Terephthalate), Lawrensen started prototyping face shields with assistance from local nurses. After coming to a design he liked, and one that everyone found was comfortable and safe, he made 150 face shields for the local hospital.

It didn’t take long for the word to spread. Lawrensen’s sister-in-law, who lives in Vermillion and works at USD, told Lawrensen that health care workers and emergency response teams in Vermillion were interested in his face shields. Lawrensen gave his sister-in-law a couple to hand out, and after those were tested, he received an email asking for 40 more face shields. In total, Lawrensen has made over 200 face shields.

A woman wearing Lawrensen's ear saver clips and a mask showing how the elastic strap hooks on the clip instead of over the ear.
Lawrensen's ear saver clips.

When faced with a second challenge, Lawrensen knew again he could make something useful with his laser cutter. As more people started wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Lawrensen said he heard several complaints about how the straps chafed ears after all day use. He began creating “ear saver” clips to attach the elastic straps behind the head instead of over the ears.

After giving locally, Lawrensen decided to expand his reach beyond the Midwest and listed his clips on eBay. To date, he has sold hundreds of pieces, and several people have told Lawrensen how much his clips have made wearing masks more comfortable.

“It’s in my character to be a servant-hearted person and to help others,” said Lawrensen. “I’m an optimist, and I believe we’ll get through COVID-19. It’s a wonderful thing to see us all do our part to stand together and support one another in these dark times. I’m encouraged by that.”

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Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

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