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An Interview with Dr. Turnera Croom, Vets in 3D

In this, the most recent segment of our Expert Interviews, we connect with Dr. Turnera Croom, DVM, who is quickly establishing herself as a leader within the 3D printing space. Using some of the skills and passions learned with her impressive schooling, she leverages that valuable experience to make a difference in the lives of military veterans as well as children who might not otherwise be exposed to this amazing technology. The interview was conducted via email and our questions with her answers appear below:

1) What prompted you to start Vets in 3D? Who are the key employees/volunteers?
Entrepreneurial spirit, plain and simple is what prompted me to start Vets In 3D. Growing up in a Civil Rights family, I was taught to always depend on myself for my success and well-being. For me, that meant working for myself and hiring others in my community, especially my fellow military Veterans. For the moment, this is a one Mom shop. That's right...I do have one munchkin, but being a high school senior gives her little time to 'volunteer'. She'll be back.

2) You have an interesting combination (and double entendre) between pets and military veterans. Can you explain how you bridge the connection between the two, or are they separate entities under one roof?

Perhaps once Vets In 3D expands to the larger, more financially fruitful company it will be, I will separate these two aspects, but for now the 3D Printing itself is that bridge connecting my Pets and Vets. Both Pets and Vets can utilize 3D printed prosthetic body parts. Both Pets and Vets can make use of the 3D printed organs that will hopefully shrink the Organ registry way down. Both Pets and Vets also love to be blinged out at times--my fellow Veterans with our 3D Printed dog tags, and our Pets with our 3D Printed (oh, goodness) dog tags. Ok, dog tags. Dog tags are the connection!

 

3) What is your academic background and how has that helped your shift into 3D printing?
Although I am a Michigan native, the South schooled me. I was blessed to attend two prestigious colleges that are known for being the best at graduating medical students. Xavier University of New Orleans is where I studied (read: partied) my way to a B.S. in Biology Premedicine. And four years later, I slid over to Tuskegee, Alabama for their School of Veterinary Medicine tutelage. Both of these schools are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and I was blessed to attend and learn that I can do anything, and make my own way in this world. Being educated around other youngsters like myself who graduated high in their classes kept me on point. I wasn't the only smart one, but there was room for us all.

4) How hard was it for you to get started and off and running? What were some of the biggest challenges?
It was a challenge to get started mostly because I still work full time as a Public Health Veterinarian. Another challenge is trying to go to bed at a decent time, and not stay up 3D printing all night like a big kid. Seriously, once you start its very hard not to re-set that print bed for the next one. My current challenge is gaining the sponsorship from local Kalamazoo corporations to help me purchase more printers for my 3D Print presentations I provide for our local students. Some of the largest corporations have sprouted right here in the Kalamazoo, Battle Creek areas, including Pfizer, and Kellogg Company. Now who wouldn't want one of those sponsors?

5) What type(s) of printers are you using currently as part of your work? What types of materials? Is there an average time for most of your builds?
I use and love the MakerGear M2 printer. It is an FDM printer, which means I use those plastics--PLA and ABS. Since ABS gives off such an odor, I don't use that around the students for my presentations, but stick to the PLA. My average build time is around 2.5 hours. Either I print a medium sized object, or several smaller items at a time. Right now I am preparing a variety of delicacies for the upcoming Black Arts Festival put on every year by the <ahref= http:="" blackartskalamazoo.org="">Black Arts Cultural Center here in Kalamazoo. This is actually their 30th year, and I am so excited to be a part of their celebration!

6) What are some of your long term goals for Vets in 3D? How can we better improve access to STEM education for students in your opinion?
A major long term goal for Vets In 3D is creating a Maker Space here in Kalamazoo that youngsters without transportation can get to easily. Many Kalamazoo kids of all cultures live in poverty, and Vets In 3D is focused on them. Many of the young Black female students in town would be encouraged when they see a successful Black female business owner with her own Maker Space that she welcomes them into. If they don't have a ride, they can catch a bus since I plan to be near the bus lines. Improving access will need to happen in concrete ways like these--acknowledging transportation issues and addressing them, advertising in all communities and churches, and creating ways that kids without money can learn, grown, and contribute.

7) What are the costs to your 3D printing services? What do you think has been the most popular thus far?
Since I've started printing, I realized that the print time is the limiting factor, especially if you only have one printer. I charge around $10 per hour for my prints. The most popular so far have been my small business promotional items. I made some cute, colorful keychains for a small healthy hair business, and when other business owners saw them, right away the orders started rolling in.In addition to the keychains, the 3D business cards and dog tags are popular. But at arts and crafts shows, it's the Defense kitties that fly off the shelves. My customers recognize right away this defense tool that is great for women and girls to have on their person.

8) Do you operate from an actual brick and mortar location, or is everything done over the internet and through the mail?
As you probably inferred from my previous answers, I currently operate through my VetsIn3D square store but the brick and mortar is coming soon. Once that happens, you might find me franchising certain aspects of my business, especially the part where I hire my fellow Veterans and train them up for 3D Printer set-up, maintenance, and repair.

9) What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your work so far?
I love going into the schools and organizations to present to kids that love science. My very first presentation was for our world renowned Kalamazoo Air Zoo (http://www.airzoo.org/), which put on a winter break innovation camp. When I found out that one of the groups was K-2, I decided to put on a Magic Show and taught the kids about the magical art of 3D Printing! It was also rewarding to me on a networking level because I had a chance to chat with my Air Zoo hostess and explain that since Air Zoo is quite far from Kalamazoo proper, that many smart and inquisitive kids were missing out on the camps. She told me that they have scholarships for students who don't have funds, but the transportation remains a problem. This is why Vets In 3D is so dedicated to creating S.T.E.A.M. access for these extremely bright Kzoo kids.

It was very exciting to be honored and featured by CastleInk.com, which tells me I am on the right track and differentiating myself from the other 3D Makers out there. My features also include a 3DPrint.com article and a WomenIn3DPrinting.com () write-up—all highlighting the diversity Vets In 3D is bringing forth. What a reward!

10) Where do you see Vets in 3D over the next 1-3 years? Do you have plans to integrate the technology into your veterinary work as a medical solution for pets?
Over the next 3 years, I see Vets In 3D making strong headway in 3D Print and S.T.E.A.M. realms both locally and regionally in the Midwest. With ties to Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Chicago, we have plenty of opportunities to start making Vets In 3D a household name in Veterinary and 3D Print education. We will definitely be integrating 3D Printed prostheses for pets as soon as we procure a larger printer, and in the meantime, the innovative kids who get to witness a Vets In 3D workshop will help come up with new ideas that may be the next best medical device or solution for pets and humans!