Engineering students learned a different kind of construction when they sewed face masks as part of a community service project.

Jaime Peralez-Segura talked his fellow students into the sewing project because he saw a need in the community and realized, with a little bit of help, he and the others could take the class assignment and make a real difference.

“Really, it was a great experience in team building and getting together to help the community,” Peralez-Segura said.


Jason Prout is an instructor at South Dakota State University’s College of Engineering and teaches a course on ethics. A required class is GE 231 – Technology, Society and Ethics.

“As part of the course, I challenge students to put in six hours of service learning for the community here or in their respective hometown,” Prout wrote in an email to the Register.

Then COVID-19 hit, along with shutdowns and social distancing, and Prout gave his students some options for fulfilling the six hours.

“(I) told them that I would be happy to be flexible in what they chose if they were open to doing service still,” he wrote.

Getting creative

Peralez-Segura wanted to do the community service but wasn’t sure how to fulfill Prout’s options “because availability for community services were shutting down left and right, because of the social distancing,” Peralez-Segura said.

Then he got some inspiration.

“I got an ad from JoAnn Fabrics, ‘cause I do a little sewing on the side,” Peralez-Segura said.

He and his wife, Sarah Vaa, do cosplay, which is short for costume play, where people dress up as characters from cartoons, movies or video games, with many sewing and customizing their own costumes.

“We started sewing stuff together,” Peralez-Segura said, getting help from his mother-in-law, Linda Vaa.

“On that ad, they showed that they were handing out products to make masks because they’re in need right now,” Peralez-Segura said.

He checked with Prout to see if a sewing project fulfilled the requirements of the community service. When Prout gave a green light to the project, Peralez-Segura sat down with his mother-in-law to figure out how they could pull this off.

Plan in action

With Linda Vaa on board as sewing coach, Peralez-Segura emailed his fellow students to see how many were willing to take part.

“Besides myself, it would be a total of five,” he said.

Also stepping up were Rizwan Kalana, Gashaw Melese, Moe Younis, and Adam Coners.

Perelez-Segura got the kits from JoAnn Fabrics, and he and Linda Vaa scheduled two Saturdays to make the masks.

“Each Saturday, there were two different students with us,” he said. Each team put in six hours on their Saturday.

Unlike Peralez-Segura, it was the first time sewing for some of them.

“We all had various duties and tasks that we could perform. Some were a little easier than others, but all in all, we worked really well together,” Peralez-Segura said.

The students had to adapt as COVID-19 took more of a hold.

“In the pictures, you’ll see the table settings, they change as the pictures are taken. At one point in time, we had closer seating and then as the virus was progressing, that’s when we split up the tables and put the leaves in there (to get more social distancing),” Peralez-Segura said.

The team made 70 masks; some were sent to a Walmart pharmacy in Minnesota and others were given to the Flandreau nursing home, he said.

Also, Linda Vaa is still making masks, he said.

High marks

Prout said he was “happy … with this generous local project” and Peralez-Segura’s initiative to meet the assignment.

How happy was the instructor with their work?

“I got an ‘A,’” said Peralez-Segura with a laugh, then added, “That’s only because instead of performing the six hours, I did 12. I didn’t want the students to not have somebody there in the class, so I did my best to help out as much as I could.”

Good experience

Peralez-Segura said he would “absolutely” do it again.

“We had a couple of the students who said if we asked them to do it again, they would be more than willing to come up and help out,” he added.

He’s learned that even a simple project can have a large impact.

“One of the things that a lot of people tend to overlook is that sometimes we can do more to help the community than we actually think we can,” Peralez-Segura said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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