Mechanical Engineering Grad and AMIST Coordinator Finds Home at Speed School

May 3, 2023

Story By Holly Hinson
Video by Ashly Cecil

Staff Spotlight: Justin Gillham

He describes the decision to transfer to Speed School as the best he's ever made, and after graduating in 2022, serves in a critical staff role as AMIST's Engineering Coordinator.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Justin Gillham was embraced by the Speed School family when he arrived as a transfer student– and he’s not left since.

After two years in engineering at Penn State, Gillham followed his family when they moved to Louisville in 2018 and found a real community at Speed School of Engineering at University of Louisville.

Now the Coordinator of Engineering Technical Services at the Advanced Manufacturing Institute of Science and Technology (AMIST), located on the UofL campus, his interest and affinity for 3D printing began as a child’s hobby before he even entered college.

Through Speed School, and with corporate partner Canon Solutions America’s support of AMIST, Gillham got the opportunity to nurture that interest through academics and hands-on experience and transformed it into the center of his current career in advanced manufacturing. He is planning to begin his studies towards a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering this year.

“I really like design and I got really deep into doing 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) work through my classes at Speed School,” said Gillham. “I’ve been able to take those designs and make them with something that I was really interested in,’ he said. ‘I began my first co-op rotation at AMIST in 2019, and I’ve been there ever since.”

Shortly after his first rotation, COVID hit and everything changed – for just about everyone. “As soon as classes were cancelled after spring break that semester, I just immediately became heavily involved in the COVID response that was undertaken in order to help meet the needs with 3D printed products.”

Working with former student Kate Schneidau and former AMIST director Ed Tackett, the three spearheaded a massive effort to help support first responders and medical personnel. In two months, Gillham had a crash course in real-world engineering, designing COVID swabs and printing hundreds of thousands of face shields for hospitals, dentists and nursing homes.

“It was such a huge undertaking, and it really set me on the path to eventually be where I am now. That was the real starting point.”

Gillham said the COVID response was also a unique opportunity to see the impact of engineering in action. “Everything we did was immediately impactful and you could see that impact as it was happening,’ he said. “That was very gratifying, and it made the work feel really meaningful.”

Engineering was a primary interest for Gillham from an early age. “My family was really into fixing up old Volkswagens, so I was always seeing components of mechanical things, and that really drove me through middle and high school,” he said. “When it came to decide what to do, it wasn’t really much of a question, it was just naturally, I will be doing engineering.”

Gillham has had no regrets about relocating and finding Speed School. “When I made my way to Louisville to complete my degree, it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he said. “It’s been amazing and absolutely life altering for me. Speed School’s taken such great care of me, and the opportunities that I’ve had working at AMIST, I would never have had any other way.”

After COVID, Gillham said he has had additional opportunities to work on significant projects that can change people’s lives.

At UofL’s Brown Cancer Center, Gillham has worked on a project of designing and printing radiation shields customizable to each cancer patient receiving radiation treatment.

“When they’re being treated, sometimes they have to lay down or sit in these really uncomfortable positions and hold their arms up,” he explained. “They were needed in real time to help the patient, and we were able to make these stabilization devices custom for each patient in a week’s time,’ said Gillham. “That took the delay out of the process of using outside resources, and we were able to have it right back in their hands right away.”

Another cutting-edge project Gillham has led is another medical school collaboration resulting in the design and development of a field hockey mask after a team captain was injured in a preseason game.  “The trainers from UofL Health and Sports Medicine reached out to us, and we were able to come up with a quick solution by using a 3D scan of the player’s face and making a custom fit mask for protection,” said Gillham. “It was done in about 10 days, right in time for their first game of the season.”

Gillham said his trajectory in the 3D printing world has been very rewarding. “It’s been great being involved in AMIST, and going from doing it as a hobby to doing it for work, and seeing all the history where UofL was one of the first places that all this technology started to take off and be worked on,” he said. “Now we are at the point where we are seeing what all we can do with it, and that’s a really cool place to be in as a young person in that field getting started.”

In his role at AMIST, Gillham is in charge of all the co-op students, who make up the majority of the workers at the center, and he likes being able to help guide students who are where he once was in his life.

“I know what it’s like to be the co-op in that spot and I’m here for them, to share experiences and help them,” he said. “It’s also giving back directly to the engineering school, and I’ve been very lucky to have these opportunities and to be able to take advantage of them the way that I have.”

Gillham’s world revolves around Speed School, and he doesn’t plan on changing that anytime soon. ‘I graduated, but I’m still here at school so it does feel like I never left, and I’m going to have a very smooth transition back into getting my master’s degree,” he said. “Honestly, in the long run, I’m not sure that I really would ever not want to be here.”