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Interview with Luis Chavez, 3D Printing Community Ambassador

By Shanshan Thompson

A leader in 3D Printing technology adoption in his native Honduras, Luis Chavez is part of the maker movement’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.  He is managing an effort to 3D print Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so that medical professionals can provide appropriate care to patients afflicted with this deadly disease.  Here is a link to a March 2020 demonstration video that he helped create to promote this important work– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9Q3Ny2SHo0&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2kKUWl1of-jr00359Zrj0Js2fTrPs9xl62xBGWjs1nIrWUbjhFx3TfH3w  3D printing Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs).  The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Larry and Beth Gies College of Business (UIUC GIes) Illinois Maker Lab, co-directed by UIUC Gies Faculty member and Illinois Community Ambassador Faculty Adviser Vishal Sachdev, is also making significant contributions to the maker movement’s response to COVID-19.  More information on the UIUC Gies Illinois Maker Lab’s work in helping this cause is available on its website–https://makerlab.illinois.edu/covid19-response


Hello everyone, I am Shanshan Thompson, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Larry and Beth Gies College of Business (UIUC Gies) Illinois Community Ambassador. Today, it is my great honor to conduct an interview with our 3d Printing Specialization Community Ambassador Luis Chavez from Honduras.  


Shanshan:  It is so nice to have a conversation with you today although we are so far from each other. I live in such a cold place while you live in a cozy and warm place! (When the interview was conducted, Shanshan was living in Wisconsin, U.S.A., and will move to Virginia soon.) 

Luis: Yes, I live in Honduras, which is exactly at the heart of Central America. Hondurans are warmhearted people and everybody can take a piece of our heart with them when they visit our country (metaphorically. 🙂). I was born in Comayagua city, which was the first capital from 1825 to 1880. Ten years ago, I moved to El Rincon Village near Siguatepeque city and it is 40km away from my hometown Comayagua.


Fotocredit: Luis Chavez

Fotocredit: Luis Chavez

Shanshan: That sounds great. Let us start with some easy questions first. What is your favorite food?  

Luis: Honduras reflects a blend of cultural influences: Spain, Mexican, Mayan, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and more, especially visitors can tell that from tasting our food.  My favorite food is baleadas, and that is also Gordon Ramsay’s favorite food . I love coffee (black and with no sugar) too. For the past ten years, Honduras has been one of the top coffee producing countries.  There are many other delicious dishes like soups that are indigenous to the Northern coast of the country inhabited by the Garafina. The Garafina are a Central American people who arrived in Honduras from the Lesser Antilles in 1797.


Shanshan: Good to know. I bet a cup of black coffee wakes you up everyday? So what do you usually do the first thing in the morning after you wake up?

Luis: I opened my eyes. 🙂 Hahahahaha I try to be a good father and husband, so I take my kid to school. And then I go to work.


Shanshan: Well, that is a good way to start the day! Would you be willing to describe what you are doing for work.  I understand that it is connected to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign educational programs?

Luis:  Yes!  I am a member of an organization called Subsistence Marketplace Initiative in Honduras. We strive to work with underserved populations and give them opportunities to develop knowledge and skills that will help them achieve their dreams of a better life. We work in cooperation with UIUC Gies. I also continue to work alongside UIUC Gies students on Coursera who are in various academic programs to connect them with local stakeholders who can benefit from their talent.


Shanshan: How does your work with this organization connect to the UIUC Gies and its programs?

Luis: Actually my involvement with the Subsistence Marketplace Initiative began with a tremendous amount of help from UIUC Gies. Before taking UIUC Professor Madhu Viswanathan’s Course available via Coursera, “Subsistence Marketplaces,” I have lost my faith in the efforts of NGOs, government, churches and the private sector in fighting poverty. Late in 2013, I came across Subsistence Marketplaces on Coursera and I decided to give it a try. I was skeptical at the beginning. But after I finished the first class, it was like I had found the missing link and discovered the blind spot of why such efforts in fighting poverty were not having the impact they wanted.. It was a “aha” moment. That course changed my life forever, because I came to realize that not everything was lost, there was hope, and there was a way to attend to people’s educational and subsistence needs in a more effective way. It was an eye-opener to learn from people living in poverty, they have valuable lessons to teach us. 

To answer your question, thanks to the course, I found my WHY. I realize that I have come into this world to LEARN from everybody, SHARE what I learned (just as Professor Viswanathan did with his knowledge via Coursera) and to INSPIRE OTHERS. This means that my purpose was to give future generations a world in better conditions as the one in which we have received it. And now that I have a son, I have another reason to get out of bed in the morning.  And I want to be a positive role model for my son.


Shanshan: What helps you in trying to do your work–do you have an approach that you find helpful?

Luis:  Well, what I can say on this subject, based on my experience, is that it helps to understand the concerns of the underserved more deeply by observing them and listening to their concerns. The approach I use to visit communities and I learn from them, I listen carefully to their challenges and from that we start creating sustainable solutions for them.


Shanshan: What is your most favorite business topic to teach?

Luis: I love to teach about the rights that consumers have. And also I like to teach marketplace literacy in general.  Last year, we adopted new lessons to our marketplace literacy activities in Honduras on 3D printing.   


Shanshan: Tell me about your experience with 3D Printing?

Luis: I came in touch with the 3D technology once again thanks to UIUC Gies, and the Subsistence Marketplace course. I saw that the Illinois Maker Lab, the first of its kind at a business school, directed by Professor Vishal Sachdev, encourages people – especially kids and young people – to learn about this technology. Soon after I was invited to the 6th Subsistence Marketplaces [a 3D printing technology conference with an emphasis on education and economic transformation held on the UIUC campus in 2016], I joined another UIUC Gies Coursera course, this time related to 3D printing. So when the time came to visit UIUC’s campus, I was “ready” to participate in the workshop and interact with 3D printing technology. It was a FANTASTIC experience. After that visit we (Professor Madhu Viswanathan, Francisco Seufferheld and I) started work on how to improve marketplace literacy in Honduras through a greater understanding of 3D printing technology. With the knowledge and skills that I acquired through UIUC Gies‘s courses on Coursera, it was possible to reach children and young people and at the same time teach them marketplace literacy principles.


Shanshan: How would you describe the 3D printing industry in Honduras?

Luis: I don’t have exact data, but it is still very young and market penetration is low. Some private schools are starting to implement the technology but these efforts are in the early stages. Even though some private schools are starting to implement the technology, there is essentially an open field to work on it. There are many challenges to working in a subsistence context, but we are finding ways to overcome them. It is challenging to work with 3D printers in rural areas where people do not typically have access to the internet. However, there is internet access in certain public schools, though the computer equipment is somewhat old. Nevertheless, we have access to 3D printers and love to teach 3D printing concepts and applications that will give our students an opportunity to have a better quality of life. I think that 3D technology can  help everyone. We want to encourage the creativity needed to solve many of society’s problems as well as its environmental challenges. 

My Coursera education has helped me, and I would like to share what I learned through the NGO that I have founded [Subsistence Marketplaces Initiative, a link to my Subsistence Marketplaces Blog is provided here:  http://bit.ly/2WO8dcV ] so that I can teach children at a 3D printing lab modeled on the one I saw on the Illinois campus.  Children in low income countries start working early in life and they play an important role in the family income, I believe that by teaching families Marketplace Literacy they save money which leads their children with time and money to go to school and also to learn more about the world.  That’s the future I want not just for my son, but for many children in my beloved Honduras and the entire world.


Shanshan: That is so great. Thank you so much for having an enlightening conversation with me. I wish you the best in your endeavors!