Emily Kragel has a way of weaving art into her approach to the world — from everyday life to her medical education. The fourth-year Brody School of Medicine student teamed up with a friend to create a series of age-appropriate children’s coloring books that address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kragel and Logan Beyer, a student at Harvard Medical School and aspiring pediatrician like Kragel, combined their talents in efforts to educate children on coronavirus and the impact it has had on health care and daily life on a level they identify with. The books can be downloaded and printed.

“Logan studied child development in undergrad, and I studied computer science and visual arts,” Kragel said. “With each of our backgrounds, we were able to put our knowledge and skills together to approach the project. She wrote the books — there are three based on age — in an age- and content-appropriate manner to provide factual knowledge, address emotions and empower children.”

As best friends during their undergraduate years at Duke University, the coloring books’ creators realized early on that they could not only use their pediatric aspirations and their penchant for the arts for the greater good, but also that together, they could accomplish even more. They were already planning a coloring book project geared at other health topics.

“In the months before COVID-19 hit, we had just begun discussing creating a children’s book to help reduce social stigma around certain health conditions in global health settings,” Beyer said. “After coronavirus took hold in the United States and public schools closed, Emily and I began to realize how confusing the pandemic was for the children we knew. There was a lot of scary new information, big emotions, and unanticipated time away from school and friends, yet a striking lack of resources designed just for kids.”

Kragel took the lead on the illustrations and Beyer wrote the main storyline, which introduced “Germ Busters” that connected with children to communicate accurate information on coronavirus in a way that would make sense to children and give them something to focus on, while also reminding them that health care providers are working hard to keep them safe.

“What an educational, creative and fun resource for our children to learn about what they can do to keep themselves and others safe and healthy,” said Dr. Drew Baker, clinical professor of pediatrics and division chief of general pediatrics at Brody.

So far, the project has been well received, with more than 2,000 downloads of the coloring books. Kragel and Beyer have brainstormed how they can reach even more families and children.

“We realize that not everyone has access to a printer and are working on creating an online ‘click and paint’ feature on our website,” Kragel said.

In addition to being shared through the Pitt County Arts Council and Pitt County Schools, the book is also available at Wide Open Schools, along with many other resources for children.

ECU startup flips over hemp for skateboard manufacturing

An ECU student-led startup company has plans to make hemp a household item, not for its use in health products or wholesome snacks, but for its potential to help thrill seekers grab big air on a halfpipe.

ECOre Composites, a startup led by mechanical engineering major Cainen Miller and industrial engineering technology major Joe Gisler, uses eco-friendly composites to design and manufacture products.

The duo’s first attempt at giving an old product a new, environmentally-inspired design came in ECOre’s take on the skateboard — specifically the sturdy deck that makes up the board’s body.

Traditionally, decks are built of wood, mostly sourced from trees in the Great Lakes region. Besides the stress put on the environment as part of the construction process, wooden skateboards face structural challenges, like drying out, which causes the board to chip. Boards can also become waterlogged, making them heavier and harder to control.

Through its manufacturing process, ECOre’s skateboard deck is priced at $70, within the range of $55-$200 for a conventional wooden board.

“The market for hemp and other eco-friendly skateboards is steadily growing as people begin to realize the benefits in performance, as well as the environmental benefits,” Gisler said. “Maple wood is the most popular product used in skateboard manufacturing, but rising costs are reducing profit margins, making both consumers and manufacturers look elsewhere for alternative boards.”

Miller said that ECOre’s manufacturing process is unique because it uses industrial hemp fiber instead of wood. Multiple layers of fiber are laid on top of one another and are coated with an eco-friendly epoxy. When the product is cured, it produces a solid board that can be shaped into a skateboard deck.

“The consumer receives the benefit of having a high-performance, waterproof product that they know didn’t contribute to deforestation,” Miller said.

The pair spent the spring semester developing a prototype of the board after researching its market potential last fall. Miller added that as an engineering major, learning about the business side of producing a product was a challenge.

That’s where Gisler came in. The pair were introduced as part of RISE29 — ECU’s award-winning student entrepreneurship program — because they both had an interest in producing green products. Gisler was tasked with exploring opportunities for hemp use in eastern North Carolina by RISE29 leadership. He saw the versatility of hemp fiber manufacturing, including its use in more than 25,000 products like clothing and apparel, construction materials and textiles.

“Hemp loves the same soil as tobacco, and farmers have found success in using hemp in their rotation as a natural pesticide,” Gisler said. “Being that North Carolina is the nation’s top producer of tobacco, we have the infrastructure and the farmers to successfully dominate the hemp market.”

Gisler and Miller hope to return to the lab soon to fine-tune their prototype. The pair were unable to follow the specific manufacturing guidelines they established due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions. With more lab testing, they’ll be able to conduct research into the board’s thickness, stress points and material properties.

Gisler and Miller are interested in expanding ECOre’s product line with other sports boards, including longboards, snowboards, wakeboards and surfboards in the future.

Contact jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.