Tabor Academy technology helps with medical shortage

Apr 7, 2020

Amidst a nationwide shortage of medical-grade protective masks, Tabor Academy student and Mattapoisett native Hannah Watt wanted to help, but didn’t know where to start.

“I feel very helpless,” Watt said, since “I don’t know how to sew” or otherwise make masks.

By building her technological skills and pooling them with other students, she built two 3D printers. Originally meant for Our Sisters’ School in New Bedford, they are now part of a larger effort by Tabor faculty members, two libraries to send face shields and their parts to first responders.

Together, the volunteers have used 12 3D printers to make over 80 masks and hundreds of parts to assemble with those from other sources. With the Elizabeth Taber Library and Mattapoisett Free Public Library closed, librarians were quick to loan their printers to the effort.  

Tabor Academy faculty members Karl and Susan Kistler knew they had tools and the know-how to help with the national shortage. They picked a design approved by the National Institutes of Health that involves 3D printed and laser-cut components. 

The group has coordinated with the Marion Board of Health, Police and Fire Department and has also sent shields to Wareham Pediatrics. Susan has donated the extra parts to the state chapter of Masks for Docs, which then distributes them. 

A Tabor Academy science teacher set up four of the 3D printers in his dormitory common room to run production there. Two other faculty families worked in their homes to attach a headband to each finished visor with rubber bands and zip ties to keep the face shield in place.

Another teacher will deliver mask components not used locally to a partner makerspace in Brookline for final distribution to Boston area hospitals.

Karl said, “as soon as we told the campus what we were doing, people came forward asking how to help.” 

And though most students aren’t on campus, a few of them are proud to see their hard work join in with the effort. 

Watt and Hailey Kim, of South Korea founded the Girls Advancing in STEAM (or GAINS) club in September 2019. 

They decided to assemble 3D printers and donate them to their partner school, Our Sisters’ School in New Bedford, partly because Kim had an engineering background and had built 3D printers before. 

They started the building process way back in November, and finished the effort and its related troubleshooting just before Spring Break just as the virus started to ramp up. 

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Watt said. “I had never built anything beyond helping my Dad put together a couch.” 

She said she went from scared and thinking of the task as impossible to do to saying “oh, that wasn’t too bad.” 

The girls kept it fun by playing music during the assembly process, but still Watt said it was “amazing how careful you have to be.” At one point, they noticed what they thought was a critical error that would have forced them to undo hours of work. However, a clever student managed to rewire the printers to save the team that work, which Watt called “a big relief.” 

She called the printers “our little children,” and said it is strange that she hasn’t yet seen them in action. However, when Kistler reached out to ask if he could use the printers, she was “so excited she was jumping around the living room.” 

The Mattapoisett native said that Our Sisters was excited to receive the printers. However, she hopes to still be able to deliver them in the fall, and is glad they can be put to good use in the meantime. 

To join in with Tabor Academy’s efforts, email