Student of the Week: Red Bud senior hopes to give others a hand using 3D printer

Red Bud High School student Kara Puntriano has initiated a program combining the school’s vocational classes and science classes developing prosthetic hands with the 3D printer.
Red Bud High School student Kara Puntriano has initiated a program combining the school’s vocational classes and science classes developing prosthetic hands with the 3D printer.

Kara Puntriano knows what she wants to do after college — make prosthetic limbs for children.

The Red Bud High School senior is getting a head start on that goal this year by using her school’s 3D printer to make simple prosthetic hands for kids.

“They do this while kids are growing so they can get two or three until their arms are fully grown and then they’ll get a medical prosthetic hand,” Kara said.

So far, Kara, with help from classmates and teachers, developed a prototype of a plastic prosthetic hand working with the nonprofit organization Enabling The Future. The organization must first approve the school’s prototype before it can move forward with the project and make real prosthetic hands for children in need all around the world. The prosthetic hands are simple devices made to help children grasp objects.

Her industrial technology teacher Jared Piel described Kara as a “fantastic student. She really has a passion for doing this,” he said. “She’s really taken charge of this project, and she’s doing a great job. ... There’s no doubt she’s going to be successful when she graduates.”

I’m not going to meet any of these kids that I give the hands to, but it’s just the thought of me helping a child grow into someone that can start something of their own. I think that would be really cool.

Kara Puntriano, senior at Red Bud High School

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the prosthetic hand project?

A: “At the beginning of the school year, I noticed that the 3D printer wasn’t being used a lot. So I kind of got curious as to what I would be able to do with it. I talked to my advanced biology teacher Mr. (Terry) Meyer, and we came up with the idea to do something medically with it. We were looking up different things we can do, and we came up with Enabling The Future, this nonprofit organization that basically gets prosthetic hands from different schools and gives them to underprivileged kids. We thought we would just sign up and try it out.”

Q: What does the project entail?

A: “Our first task was to build a prototype. It came in different files and I had to fit them into each other to see how they would work. We are on pause with this right now, because we haven’t gotten all of our additional items in yet. But once we get this sent off and if we get approved, then we will start making real hands like fitted ones for real kids ... I really hope we get approved so we can do that.”

Q: How long did it take to make the prototype?

A: “The printing actually didn’t take as long as I thought it would. It took about 17 hours. But the planning and the preparing and the building took about three weeks, and we’re still not finished. It will take a while longer.”

Q: When do you anticipate making the first real prosthetic if you get approved by Enabling The Future?

A: “I hope in about a month I would be able to start, but it’s up to them.”

Q: How much information will you get about the child you are making a hand for?

A: “Just probably their gender and the size of their hand and maybe where they live, I’m not sure. They can be from anywhere in the world.”

Q: Is this a class project?

A: “Kind of. We have my advanced biology class kind of involved in it and also my advanced drafting class as well. But I’m the chair, I guess, of it, and it’s kind of fun. I get to tell people what to do and stuff like that. It’s nice, because I’m the one whose researched it the most. So I have to be there to make sure everything is working out OK. I do this during my study hall, after school and before school.”

Q: Did you have any past experience with prosthetics?

A: “I had shadowed an orthotic and prosthetics lab last year, and I remember they had talked about using the 3D printer to make some of their parts for their prosthetic legs and things like that. ... I have an uncle (Chris Piche of Edwardsville), he works with kids that have things like this. It’s always been a thought — being like him and helping out.”

Q: Have you always been interested in science and technology?

A: “I’m really good at math so of course everyone is like ‘math and science, you’ve got to do engineering’ so that kind of pushed me into it. But once I started learning more about it, I fell in love with it.”

Q: Do you have any advice for other teens who may be hesitant to jump into a big project like this?

A: “Just do it. It was scary for me. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I learned a lot about myself and felt like I grew in my responsibility in learning how to interact with people. If you put your mind to something you should persevere and go through with it.”

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Meet Kara Puntriano

  • Age: 18
  • School: Red Bud High
  • Grade: Senior
  • Favorite class: Advanced drafting
  • ACT score: 30
  • Time spent on homework: “One hour tops,” she says
  • Colleges under consideration: University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Favorite food: Watermelon
  • Favorite restaurant: Chili’s
  • Favorite past time: Playing golf and basketball. “I love sports,” she says.
  • Family: parents Michele and Percy and brother Aaron, 20
  • Job: Waitress at Applebee’s in Waterloo