After the COVID-19 pandemic began and reports of personal protective equipment shortages spread across the United States, Nareh Manooki worried she was useless. Then she got to printing.
The Burbank resident, who teaches engineering at Glendale Community College, Los Angeles City College and L.A. Pierce College, asked school officials if she could take home the 3-D printers she had ordered for her class lab, which remained without students due to the pandemic. The college said yes.
“[We were] still kind of working in a virtual setting, but I felt like I needed to do something to help the bigger issue. That’s just my personality,” Manooki, whom Congressman Adam Schiff recently named a woman of the year in the district he represents, said in an interview. “Growing up in a big family, we always jump in and help each other.”
Soon, Manooki began printing plastic face shields for medical professionals who were struggling to find enough equipment for themselves and their patients. When performing CPR or putting on a ventilator, nurses told her, potentially infectious droplets patients produce can land on medical workers’ masks and eyes, making the shields necessary.
She later connected with a network of instructors also wanting to donate PPE, and worked with students to distribute the face shields to nursing homes and hospitals across L.A., including at Adventist Health Glendale.
By the time manufacturers began producing enough PPE for U.S. medical centers after last summer, Manooki and her team had donated more than 2,000 face shields and ear tension straps, which nurses had requested to alleviate the pain of wearing tight masks for several hours.
A year later, Manooki is receiving public appreciation for her work, with Schiff, whose district includes Burbank, including her in his office’s 2021 list of women of the year.
“Every year, we honor women across the 28th Congressional District who make a positive impact on the lives of their neighbors and improve and enrich our community,” Schiff said in a news release. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the unimaginable burden shouldered by women as essential and front-line workers, health-care personnel, caregivers, scientists and teachers. I am proud to recognize these heroic individuals and their contributions, sacrifices, and selfless service as recipients of the 2021 Women of the Year award.”
Manooki said she was “extremely surprised” when she received the voicemail notifying her of the selection — her husband thought it was a prank call. She’s honored by the recognition, she added, even though she didn’t know what the award was until recently.
Schiff’s office also lauded a later program of Manooki’s. After PPE became plentiful, she explained, her team stopped making face shields. But she had seen that the students who helped her appeared to learn much from their experience. The instructor successfully applied for grant funding to purchase more 3-D printers, working with other GCC faculty and counselors to select from a pool of interested students who wanted to learn how to use the devices.
Manooki, who worked at the Boeing Co. for 12 years before becoming an instructor, said she was particularly interested in having minority students apply for the program, having found that it can be difficult at first for a minority member to feel confident in the engineering field.
The panel eventually chose four students to receive 3-D printers, and Manooki tasked them last year with making PPE more comfortable for wearers.
“I wanted them to learn about innovation and improving designs. This is what … inventors are doing every day in the market,” she said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we’re always improving designs.”
For example, two students worked to design a structured mask that wouldn’t press against the mouth or nose when the wearer was speaking. Another student designed a mask attachment that would keep glasses from fogging. At the end of the recent school year, Manooki said, the group gave a virtual presentation to showcase their projects.
The experience, she believes, gave her students something that they could put on their resumes and show a potential employer. Manooki added she has deeply valued providing real-world projects to her students since she became an instructor.
“I feel like, if I’m not doing that, why am I a teacher?” she said. “I’m always looking for that teachable moment — what can I teach my students that’s not just the textbook? And I think that’s vital to be a good teacher.”