Engineering Student Provides Masks to Blind Community Members

Engineering student Eric Estrada wears a mask similar to the 80 he had made and donated to members of the San Diego Blind Community Center.Engineering student Eric Estrada was able to get 80 face masks made and donated to members of the San Diego Blind Community Center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eric Estrada is one person, but that's more than enough to start something that makes a difference.

Estrada's mind, like most, has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, like most, the University of San Diego student, a junior industrial and systems engineering major, has been self-isolating. And, for people who are staying home to stay healthy, he is still determined to do something for others.

"Basically, I've been keeping track of the current pandemic since mid-January," Estrada says. "I was recognizing trends that, unfortunately, were leading to much of the world being affected. Unfortunately, a lot of countries did not prepare for such in a timely manner."

As COVID-19 concerns grew, Estrada's mind was wide open. But it wasn’t until a spring semester class started that he found his call to help. Through his Engineering 103 class for user-centered design, Estrada worked with a few connections to get 80 face masks made and donated to blind and low-vision members of San Diego's Blind Community Center (BCC).

In Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering Professor Odesma Dalrymple's 103 class, students design ideas through a community engagement relationship with USD's Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action and the BCC.

"One day in class, I was listening to some of the challenges that members of the blind community have. One that concerned me most was that a lot of prevention measures society implements do not help people with low-vision impairments. This motivated me to do my part."

Combining the class' inspirational partnership and values he was taught by his mother, Ofelia, the mask-making idea took shape. He reached out to a connection he had in the textile industry. Ernesto Roman, owner of Zermnem LLC and his mother, liked Estrada’s idea.

BCC's Christie Greene, the center’s full-time volunteer resource development and marketing director, liked it, too. She shared with Estrada the number of masks needed and sizes. In a week's time, the 80 masks were made and personally delivered by Estrada. Greene was able to distribute the masks to all BCC members.

Estrada was inspired to help, but it wasn't for a class grade.

"The mask donation is not part of my class requirement, it is simply a gesture to the community coming from the heart," he said. "We just focused on the user's needs on how we could help immediately due to the urgency of the situation."

The mask donation did fuel Estrada's interest to continue making a difference — this time it is a group project that is for his engineering class.

"We're focused on creating a cost-effective ‘smart cane,’" he said. "One already exists, but according to the users, it is too expensive. A smart cane helps those with visual impairments to move about more freely from point A to point B, assisting them in avoiding different types of hazards for their well-being.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photo provided by Eric Estrada

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