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Cuyamaca College students create devices to assist essential workers

Posted on: Apr 13, 2020 1:00:00 PM

Contact: Anne Krueger

A pair of Cuyamaca College engineering students are making things a little more tolerable for health care workers and other essential employees whose face mask straps can wear thin on the soft tissue behind their ears during their shifts.

Dill Johnson, 24, and Nicholas Snyder, 20, are using their 3-D printers at home and the skills they’ve learned at Cuyamaca College to produce more than 200 “ear saver” bands to relieve the pressure caused by straps on a face mask. 

With essential workers from doctors and nurses to food service employees mandated to wear face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with health officials urging residents to wear one any time they leave their home, ear savers – which look something like a plastic comb and hook around the back of the neck - are becoming increasingly popular.

 Snyder’s venture began in developing a few ear savers for his mom, a nurse, and her co-workers at a local hospital. “It becomes incredibly uncomfortable to have all that pressure behind your ear all day long,” he said.

 About the same time, a friend asked if Snyder could use his 3-D printer to make more for essential workers such as grocery store clerks. He’s printed dozens so far and has no plans on stopping.

 Johnson was motivated by his stays in the hospital while being treated for testicular cancer and appendicitis. “I have a true appreciation for health care professionals, who have had a huge impact on my life,” said Johnson, who has produced close to 200 of the ear savers. “Giving back to them in even a small way is pretty rewarding.”

 Johnson, who will be transferring to San Diego State in the fall to study mechanical engineering, said he was planning to use his 3-D printer to produce face shields and face masks. Then his sister told him about the need for ear savers, which can be produced in a fraction of the time. He’s been making up to 60 per day.

 Johnson and Snyder have donated their ear savers to workers at UC San Diego Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, Sharp Grossmont Hospital, and more.

 “If I see a problem, I’m not going to hesitate to jump in, come up with a quick drawing, put it into AutoCAD, and develop a workable solution, and I attribute that to the skills and knowledge I’ve picked up through the Cuyamaca College Engineering program,” said Snyder, who is aiming to move on from Cuyamaca College to earn an engineering degree and ultimately a master’s in mechanical engineering.

 Miriam Graf Simpson, chair of engineering and physical sciences at Cuyamaca College, said Johnson and Snyder’s efforts demonstrates how students are taught at the college.

 "We try to teach our engineering students not just to master the hard concepts of creating in the physical space, but that what we build impacts other people and that engineering is a way to not just improve a project, but to improve lives and communities,” she said. “Dill and Nick are students who exemplify that effort, taking their skills and resources, and applying them in creative ways outside the classroom."




Nicholas Snyder

Nicholas Snyder


Dill Johnson

Dill Johnson


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