SRU’s Theatre Department creates face masks for on-campus employees


Facilities workers wearing their masks

From left, Rusty Karnes and Scott Abrino, Slippery Rock University director of maintenance, wears a cloth face mask that was made by faculty from SRU’s Department of Theatre. Abrino and other on-campus employees are required by Pennsylvania Department of Health orders to wear face masks while on the worksite.

April 23, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University is literally giving props to its on-campus employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Two members of SRU's Theatre Department are using fabric from its costume shop to create cloth face masks that essential employees can wear while working on campus.

This effort preempted an order by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health requiring employers to provide masks for workers to wear while on the worksite, that went into effect April 19.

"We were already encouraging our staff to use them and a lot of people took that to heart and started wearing them every day," said Scott Albert, assistant vice president for facilities, planning and environmental safety. "We're thankful for the support of the Theatre Department and this is a great example of how different areas of campus help each other during times of need."

Dan Bauer, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, reached out to Albert earlier this month to see if there was a need for face masks and offered helped from the Theatre Department. Mary Frances Hodson, instructor of theatre and costume shop coordinator, and Rebecca Morrice, associate professor of theatre and department chair, then handmade 80 cloth face masks for SRU employees to use, with more on the way.

"This was a project we were both excited about because it blends our sewing, crafting and patterning skills with a direct need on campus to help our coworkers," Morrice said. "Because we have the skills and materials on campus to manufacture these items, we can produce them at little or no cost to the University and it provides us with a way to contribute to the greater good."

Although nearly all SRU faculty and staff have been working remotely, there are some essential employees who must work on campus. These employees include those from University Police, Student Health Services, and Facilities, Planning and Environmental Safety.

Morrice and Hodson used three different patterns, one of Hodson's designs, another sourced from and a third from Baltimore-area wedding gown designer Jill Andrews, who participated in a government agency-sponsored challenge five years ago at Johns Hopkins University to design protective equipment for health care workers combatting the Ebola virus outbreak.

After providing 50 masks April 10, Morrice and Hodson began collecting feedback from staff about which styles they prefer and they are continuing to make more as needed. Albert said his staff have distributed two or three of the launderable masks per employee.

"Anything we can do to reduce the potential risk to our employees' health as they are working on campus is imperative," Albert said.

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