Liberal arts degree in hand, MiraCosta College student Ricardo Gomez Lopez decided to put off transferring to a university and instead earn a second associate degree in architectural design that required classes in 3D modeling and prototyping, and computer-aided drafting and design.
That decision may have far-reaching consequences—the AutoCAD skills he picked up in those courses provided Gomez Lopez with the proficiency to produce a prototype adapting a low-cost, reusable, 3M respirator into a pathogen-free, COVID-19 protective device.
“This is just an incredible story,” said MiraCosta College Design Department Chair Paul Clarke. “This young man who came to MiraCosta as a shy, quiet student has taken the lessons learned at the college and applied them in developing a tool addressing a pressing need during an urgent situation, involving a public health emergency.”
“This is all attributable to MiraCosta College. Everything I know about design comes from what I learned at MiraCosta. I’m grateful for the opportunity,” said Gomez Lopez.
A native of Oceansid who graduated from El Camino High School, Gomez Lopez, 23, enrolled at MiraCosta College in fall 2015 to complete his general education courses before transferring to a university. He found his career path after taking an architectural history course and resolved to remain at MiraCosta to earn another degree in architectural design, which he wraps up this fall while interning with the MiraCosta College Design Department, before transferring to a baccalaureate program in the field.
When Clarke and Design Department Instructional Associate Chris Boehm reached out to see if any students were interested in taking on the respirator adaptor project, Gomez Lopez was in. Boehm and Clarke sought out interested students after being approached by Peter Steinmetz, chief scientist at the NeurTex Brain Research Institute, about needing a prototype adaptor of a 3M 6200 respirator modified as COVID-related personal protective equipment. Steinmetz contacted MiraCosta College after hearing about the Design Department’s successful Maker Lab, which has been instrumental in crafting face masks, face shields and vent splitters—the latter of which allow a single ventilator to be used for two separate patients at the same time—in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
Gomez Lopez worked closely with Steinmetz and NeurTex’s general counsel, Grant Winthrop, while designing three successful prototypes employing various types of strategically placed cloth rendering the equipment safe to use in a COVID-19 environment. “This project has been a wonderful opportunity for Ricardo and has the potential to save lives in the future,” stated Boehm.
“Ricardo Gomez Lopez has gone from being a student and part-time worker into someone who is partnering with designers, scientists, researchers, and attorneys in developing a respirator adapter that has the ability to save lives,” Clarke said.
The experience has reinforced Gomez Lopez’s conviction that he made the right decision in staying at MiraCosta College. He plans to transfer to a four-year college or university in a year for his bachelor’s degree en route to a career as an architect.
“I’ve thought to myself, what if I didn’t stay at MiraCosta and left after earning my associate degree in liberal arts and humanities?,” Gomez Lopez said. “What if I went straight to a university to study architecture? How would things have come out differently? I may have learned more about architecture more quickly, but there are a lot of things I have picked up about AutoCAD and design that I wouldn’t otherwise have known. A lot of architects don’t have that knowledge, but I can design a video game, I can set up a virtual reality system, I can design a respirator adapter. These are things I would not have learned had I not stayed at MiraCosta College.”