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Joseph Huff: Building Lasting Connections through 4-H and 3-D Printing

Joseph by a pillar

Those who take the 4-H pledge commit themselves to helping their community and using their talents for good. Perhaps nobody embodies that pledge as much as Joseph Huff, the 2020 recipient of the 4-H Youth in Action STEM Pillar Award for his work in creating 3-D printed prosthetic hands for kids. However, for Joseph, that was just the beginning of his impressive journey helping his community. Most recently, he has applied his talents to create masks for workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in his local area and beyond.

While many kids wondered how to pass the time at home amidst stay-at-home orders, Joseph saw the restrictions as a call-to-action to help those in his community on the frontlines, bravely fighting COVID-19. Joseph put his 3-D printing skills to work by partnering with a local company to produce masks for hospital workers. All told, Joseph was able to print 1,000 masks and adjustable bands, helping keep front-line workers safe while doing their important work.

Recently, a team from HughesNet and 4-H met (virtually) with Joseph, learning more about his passion for 3-D printing, his process for printing masks, and his plans for the future. Joseph was also treated to a virtual tour of the Hughes machine shop inside the company’s factory in Maryland.

During the online conversation with HughesNet and 4-H leaders, Joseph’s passion for his craft shone through. He explained his early interest in 3-D printing, which he described as “falling in love at first sight,” and spoke humbly of his work in his local community printing masks during the pandemic.

Joseph described the moment when he realized his hobby could be a force for good. He was at a local fair, helping to staff the 4-H STEM “Maker Van” in which 4-Hers and their mentors showcase the ways that STEM skills can be applied to make things—such as robots, electronics and arts and crafts. Joseph’s mentor was demonstrating 3-D printing by creating a prosthetic hand for a child—right there, on the spot. Joseph said this was when he realized “this is a reality; this is something I can do.” From that point on, Joseph’s interest and excitement in learning more about 3-D printing has only grown. In fact, Joseph has purchased six 3-D printers to help him along the way.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the meet and greet was when Hughes Operations Manager Keith Sanborn took Joseph – virtually – behind the scenes into the Hughes 3-D printing shop, giving Joseph a glimpse at what his future might look like. While Joseph currently focuses on just one aspect of 3-D printing, Keith gave him a look into the wide array of 3-D printing processes that take place at Hughes, including refining materials down into working parts. Keith ended the tour with a practical lesson in networking, offering to serve as a mentor and sounding board for any ideas Joseph has as he pursues his passion.

What is next for Joseph? In the fall, he will finish his associates degree in college and plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Joseph goes into this next semester with a new mentor in Keith, as well as the support of everyone at Hughes and 4-H, who applaud Joseph’s pursuit of his passion and putting it to work for good.

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