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Change maker

This White House Champion of Change found a second chance and her passion at MSU Denver.

June 29, 2016

Dara Dotz (second from left), co-founder and lead designer at Field Ready, serves and trains disaster survivors how to produce their own solutions using digital fabrication, such as 3D printing to create needed products in extreme conditions. Photo credit: Field Ready
Dara Dotz (second from left), co-founder and lead designer at Field Ready, serves and trains disaster survivors how to produce their own solutions using digital fabrication, such as 3D printing to create needed products in extreme conditions. Photo credit: Field Ready

After the fireworks are over on the Fourth of July, the International Space Station will begin its arc across the sky, barely viewable in the Rocky Mountain region. If you happen to glance at the southeast horizon at 5:11 a.m. on July 5, you’ll see the ISS traveling more than 17,000 miles per second. On board is a zero gravity 3D printer that MSU Denver alumna Dara Dotz helped make possible.

“Imagine if Apollo 13 had a 3D printer when they needed to fit a square part into a round hole?” asked Dotz, who received her bachelor of science in industrial and product design in 2009. That question led Dotz to work with the team at Made in Space, which created the first zero gravity 3D printer to print in space.

“It’s expensive, slow, and dangerous to get supplies to space,” she said. “Imagine how much more simple it is to create supplies there, as needed, and if you can imagine it working in space, you can likely understand the similarities it has to disaster zones.”

Dotz is the co-founder and lead designer at Field Ready, a humanitarian non-profit that serves and trains disaster survivors how to produce and make their own solutions using digital fabrication, such as 3D printing to create needed products (just like the space station) in extreme conditions.

The Field Ready team has traveled to Haiti, Nepal, Turkey and a host of other countries to bring 3D printing technology to disaster survivors and people living in remote regions. They not only bring the technology, but they train locals in how to design and print their own supplies. Typically Field Ready stays on site for anywhere between two weeks to two months (depending on crisis, sometimes longer) and when they leave, all the equipment stays with the local population to continue to make much needed products such as replacement parts for baby incubators, generators, and basic medical disposables such as, umbilical cord clamps. They have even developed ways to augment ham radio antennas in Nepal.

Recently Dotz received a Champions of Change for Making award from the White House. It is an honor she credits to both her team and the opportunities she’s realized since receiving her degree in Industrial Design at MSU Denver.

“There’s a certain magic when you work with a successful, supportive team,” she said. “Everyone on my team compliments each other, we respect and encourage each other. It’s a lot like the teams I had at MSU Denver in the industrial design program.”

She found her passion and a second chance at college when she happened upon Dave Klein at the MSU Denver table at a college recruitment fair. “When I discovered industrial design, I was like 'What? I can make things for a career?'” said Dotz. “My favorite classes were the ones where I could be hands on and move around a lot. MSU Denver was a perfect fit for me.”

Dotz came to MSU Denver as a transfer student and all of her credits transferred but her grades did not. “In essence I was able to remake myself and start over,” she said. As a first generation college student and Native American, Dotz received scholarships through MSU Denver and TRiO Services.

“My professors, Ken Phillips, Ted Shin and John Wanberg, were incredibly patient with me and how I learned,” she said. “They never gave up on me and as a result, I didn’t give up on myself.”

Since she helped put a 3D printer in space and teach Haitians how to make their own replacement parts, Dotz has been asked to speak at TEDx Kansas City in 2015 and most recently at the GES 2016 conference at Stanford. Her passion is helping others so she travels most of the time to areas with the greatest need – with an occasional stop over in San Francisco to pick up her mail.

In Washington, D.C., last week Dotz received a behind the scene tour of the West Wing, met the White House senior advisor on science and technology and rubbed elbows with other makers from around the country. Despite it all, Dotz feels the most alive when she’s helping other people. In between international layovers, she’s judging 3D printing space competitions for the likes of NASA in the the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge Design Competition and for Autodesk’s design for Space challenge, and has volunteered with child refugees in Texas. And she’s always learning.

“I recently took a remote medical EMT course so I can design better medical tools for the field and support others with basic lifesaving skills when I travel to remote areas,” she said. “I’m eager to go back to Haiti and Turkey to collaborate with locals on new products, new supply chain hacks and to share new skills – skills they can use to help themselves for when the next disaster strikes.”

What’s next for this change maker? Whether it is another project, another country, or the next big idea, she’s in charge of her of making her future. 

Field Ready on Vimeo.

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