Supporter Spotlight: Michael Chen


From his first tour of Kramden’s warehouse, Michael Chen knew he wanted to one day help out. “I was always interested in figuring out how things worked and what the insides of different (broken) electronics looked like,” he explained, “but I liked the idea of learning how to fix a computer so that others can have one for school or work.” While he was too young to start volunteering at the time, Michael continued to stay involved by participating in a number of Kramden’s technology classes.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Michael decided to give back to the community by creating over 500 3D printed mask buckles. Earlier this year, Michael was recognized for his hard work with the National Honoree 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Award.  Each recipient was able to choose a non-profit to receive a $5,000 grant as part of the award and Michael selected Kramden Institute.  We checked in with Michael to learn more!

Michael carefully removes his 3D printed mask buckles.

How did you first become involved with Kramden?

I was very interested in electronics but was having a difficult time finding a place where I would be allowed to take more advanced classes because of my age. When my mother called Marshall at Kramden and explained our situation, he allowed me to try an Arduino class on the condition that my mother registered to take it with me because of the partner work involved. The instructor was a retired professor (Geek of the Year Lou Voerman!), and he taught the class in a very clear and engaging way. There was a lecture part where we could take notes, a diagram to be completed that explained the electronic components, and then we got hand’s-on time with Arduino. The professor also brought the HAMM radio he built for us to see! I loved the class! My mother enjoyed the class too but was relieved when Marshall told her I did so well I could attend subsequent classes without her. Delighted with this, my mother invited Kramden Institute to offer classes to other students like me through PAGE of Wake County. I have since attended every class that Kramden has offered there, including some at the Kramden campus too.

Is there something about Kramden’s work/mission in particular that you connect with? (e.g. computers for kids, recycling old computers, etc.) 

Because our family had access to technology, my siblings and I were able to attend school remotely during the “pandemic school year” (2020-2021). At home, we have had discussions about inequalities in the US and how lucky we are to have the resources we needed to succeed. It makes me sad to hear that other children my age might not have access to technology at home, or even that some schools might not even have the financial resources to purchase computers for their classrooms. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closings have made it even more clear to me that we need to help bridge that gap. I like that Kramden is doing that and that maybe I can help too.

Tell us more about the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and your project!

I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet! It was such an honor to be recognized as a State Honoree for North Carolina, that I couldn’t quite believe it when they announced my name as one of the ten National Honorees to be recognized for the 2021 Prudential Spirit of Community Award! I am honored that the organization thought my project deserving of this recognition.

Early on in the pandemic, before the shutdowns in the US, we discussed what was going on in China (we have friends and family in East Asia) – how it has impacted their community and how it may soon affect us, given how we are all connected globally. During those conversations, one question my parents kept returning to was “how we could be part of the solution to this problem?” Of all the images coming out in the news that we were allowed to see, the ones that impacted us the most were photos of healthcare workers with sores on their faces from long-term mask-wearing. I had just used my “life-savings” to buy a 3D printer six months before, and so I tried printing a facemask that I had hoped could be reused, but that ended up not being practical or guaranteed to be safe. After some more research, I learned that long-term mask-wearing also resulted in sores behind the ears and that those could be very painful. So, I decided that I would print “mask buckles” that would keep the mask loops away from the ears and yet still keep the mask tight enough to ensure the safety of the wearer. All in all, I’ve printed – with the help from a neighbor’s colleagues, when my printer broke down – a total of 580 mask buckles. They went to Healthcare workers, our school staff, Essential workers, and the Navajo Nation.

Any fun / geeky facts about yourself you would like to share?  

I love the challenge of solving puzzles and have a Rubik’s cube collection.  I also love to play with magnets and seeing how weight is distributed through the designs I come up with.  My favorite hobby, however, is origami.  More specifically, modular origami, where I take pieces of paper and fold them into shapes that fit into each other to form a larger shape.  I have a Menger sponge that I’ve been working on during my free time.


Thank you, Michael, for supporting Kramden’s mission!