Summer 2020

Mask maker

Natalie Stratton with a few of the masks she's donated. She's wearing the first one she ever made.
Courtesy Natalie Stratton

What’s in Natalie Stratton’s backpack? A yellow face mask. “It’s the first mask that I made,” she says. “It’s the one I wear whenever I’m out and about.”

Stratton, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology this spring, has made about 150 masks for health care workers at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the M Health Fairview health system, and a nonprofit that works with veterans.

A member of the University of Minnesota’s rowing team, she wanted to help with the COVID-19 crisis after she learned the season was canceled because of the outbreak.

Around the same time, her volunteer work rocking babies at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital—a gig she describes as her “favorite time of the week”—also ended. “Suddenly, I had a lot more free time than I was used to having,” she says.

After classes went online, she heard her mother, a veterinarian, talk about the shortage of personal protective equipment.

Stratton had never sewn before, but her mom taught her how to make masks during a visit to her parents’ house near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “She had to walk me through the first one,” she recalls. “It was definitely a learning process.”

Stratton brought her grandmother’s sewing machine back to campus and continued making masks. “It was part of the way I could cope with all the changes,” she says.

Since graduating, she’s been applying to medical school for the 2021–22 academic year. She says receiving an athletic scholarship for rowing made it feasible to get through college without any debt. “To some extent, it made rowing my job,” she says. “I really couldn’t be more fortunate.”

From now until she starts med school, she’ll work as a medical scribe. And she’ll continue making masks for those on the front lines. “We forget about all the little clinics that don’t have as much assistance in obtaining these materials,” she says.