Science Teacher Turning Medical Student to Repair Our World

Learn how a local science teacher, and soon-to-be UConn medical student, has inspired his high school students to 3D print face shields and donate them to health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients at UConn John Dempsey Hospital.

Local science teacher Zach Towne is holding one of New England Jewish Academy’s 3D printed face shields made by its students and donated to UConn John Dempsey Hospital COVID-19 health care workers. Towne is a soon-to-be Class of 2024 medical student at UConn’s medical school (Photo Credit: NEJA).

Meet Zach Towne, 27, currently of West Hartford. He’s a biology and anatomy teacher in town at the New England Jewish Academy (NEJA), but not for long.

Towne’s beginning medical school this summer at UConn School of Medicine joining the incoming Class of 2024 and its 110 new medical students.

Some of the 3D printed face shields made by the NEJA high school students and donated to UConn Health in June (Photo Credit: NEJA).

Back in college Towne majored in pre-med, but put off applying to medical school. Instead after working in research, he decided to pursue his passion of teaching.

“I always loved teaching, and always looked up to my teachers, so I’ve given it a shot. But I love medicine too. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I can do both,” shared Towne.

He added: “They say if you have a passion, you should probably pass it along to others. It’s a vital role to teach in any profession, and this has motivated me to go to medical school to be a doctor to gain skills to care for those around me and continue to educate the next generation.”

Why attend UConn School of Medicine?

“I’m a big fan of community and being a part of contributing to the lives around me. Connecticut is where I’m from, so why look any further?” said Towne who grew up in Old Saybrook. “Plus, I really like the new M Delta curriculum of team-based learning which really drew me to UConn’s medical school. Why would I want to go sit in a lecture hall? At UConn School of Medicine I can be in a more collaborative learning environment and also invest in those who are around me.”

Asaf Glahn of West Hartford, a NEJA Class of 2020 graduate, helping to make the face shields in the school’s Curtis Robinson Business and Innovation Center’s makerspace (Photo Credit: NEJA).

Towne hasn’t even started medical school yet but he is already helping contribute to the lives of patients, particularly the most vulnerable COVID-19 patients and the front-line employees caring for them at UConn John Dempsey Hospital.

To help give back to community members in need due to the pandemic the New England Jewish Academy and Towne as its science teacher leading the way launched a creative initiative with two students Asaf Glahn of West Hartford, a Class of 2020 graduate and Harry Gold of West Simsbury, a rising soon-to-be junior.

In the school’s Curtis Robinson Business and Innovation Center’s makerspace they used the school’s 3D printers to make personal protective equipment (PPE) face shields that have been nationally in short supply. With support from the school, Towne purchased the equipment and resources, and perfected the 3D printing design, allowing the students to start 3D printing the necessary one piece headbands, and laser cutting the raw materials to make and attach the protective face shields.

After some trial and error, success by the students finally led to a June 8 donation by the New England Jewish Academy of 50 face shields to UConn John Dempsey Hospital. And kindly, 100 more face shields are being made for an even larger donation soon.

“It was a fun, hands-on learning experience for the students to make something and even me. I haven’t stopped learning along the way,” said Towne. “But knowing the face shields were going to something so useful it was very exciting and rewarding for all of us involved.”

The two NEJA students inspired by their science teacher Zach Towne to make the 3D printed face shields in the school’s makerspace were recent graduate Asaf Glahn of West Hartford and Harry Gold of West Simsbury, a rising soon-to-be junior (Photo Credit: NEJA).

UConn Health’s Dr. Isaac Moss and his wife Juanita just happen to be presidents of New England Jewish Academy’s Board of Directors.

“It’s so inspiring to have a local teacher turning to be a medical student and contributing to the COVID-19 efforts,” shared Moss, chairman and associate professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UConn Health and its Comprehensive Spine Center.

“When the pandemic hit, the school and the students wanted to make a difference. The Academy found the plans to make face shields, bought the supplies, and the students went to work with Zach’s help and inspiration,” says Moss. “There is nothing better than a teacher setting an example for their young students.  It’s inspiring on so many levels.”

Moss added: “NEJA tries to instill in its students to give back to the community and make the world a better place. It’s very rewarding to see that we are instilling this in our teachers too.”

Poignantly, part of the school’s mission statement in Hebrew translates to “repairing the world.”

And while not of the Jewish faith the school’s motto has always inspired Towne while working at the NEJA the last four years.

“I can’t imagine not contributing to the repair of our world,” said Towne. “Just like our 3D printing face shields initiative, the thought and the knowledge is out there for anyone who wants to contribute as a civic duty.”