Written by Spencer Halliday
A Tucson-based startup company gave a group of ASU engineering students a reason to smile – and they’ll be spreading those smiles all the way to Nicaragua.
The mostly-female team of Arizona State University students dubbed “Engineering smiles” launched a project four years ago to design and build a mobile dental clinic. Sara Mantlik, the 23-year-old Engineering Smiles project manager, said this was “the largest and most ambitious engineering project ever undertaken by ASU engineering students.”
The team built the mobile clinic for a California-based nonprofit organization called IMAHelps. They plan to use the unit for humanitarian outreach in the U.S. and Nicaragua, as well as both humanitarian outreach and dental student training in Nicaragua. The target country is the second most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere.
Mantlik traveled to El Salvador with IMAHelp volunteers during the design phase to get a feel for what the clinic would need to be equipped with to meet the volunteers’ needs.
Just planning and building the unit took considerable time and money – Engineering Smiles spent years fundraising and designing the trailer. But the expenses didn’t stop there. With only one month before they graduated, the team didn’t have the resources to fill the mobile clinic with furniture, equipment, and supplies it needed to function properly.
That’s where Chris Andrews.
Mantlik’s team came across Andrews through a contact at ASU. His startup company, Catalina Laboratory Products LLC, specializes in outfitting custom laboratories.
Andrews and his business partner were inspired by the students, and donated thousands of dollars-worth of their time and furnishings to fully stock the clinic’s interior, provide cabinetry and countertops, and modify the electrical and plumbing utilities inside the trailer.
“I knew my business partner, Kim Bergman, had the expertise – and more importantly, a big heart – to help these students reach their goal,” Andrews said.
Mantlik called Andrews a “miracle.” She said the students had been praying for the kind of help Andrews and Bergman provided to be able to complete their project.
Engineering Smiles isn’t done fundraising – they still need $17,000 worth of dental equipment before they are ready to hand the clinic off to IMAHelps in May. Still, Andrews’ help made their goal possible.
The clinic will be used on humanitarian outreach missions in Arizona and Southern California before it is shipped to Nicaragua. The founder and president of IMAHelps said she was very honored and grateful the students chose to donate the clinic to her organization.