JOPLIN, Mo. —
Michael Moritz, Travis Coffee and Kenneth Paylor had no idea that an assignment for their senior design class at Missouri Southern State University would win an award or the emotional gratitude from a service organization.
To them, they just had to make a drying rack. They saw the physical details -- weight, resistance, tensile strength, compressive strength, ease of replication, etc.
But they didn't see what the rack meant to those who commissioned it.
"We were blown away by what they had done," said Rikki Smith, service learning coordinator with the university. "They didn't know how many people they touched by what that prototype held."
The three seniors were recognized Tuesday for their project with the Spirit of Service Award, an annual honor from the university's Service Learning department.
The rack is engineered to hold plywood stars that are about a half-inch thick and less than a foot wide. Notched PVC pipes hold each star at two minimal contact points and allow each star to hang independently without touching other stars.
The rack can hold more than 300 stars and has wheels for portability. Each cart is built to hold 30 to 50 pounds of stars.
And that's a big deal for members of Stars of Hope, such as Smith.
The Stars of Hope project is a community art project for areas affected by tragedies such as natural disasters or man-made violence. Originating in New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the project features stars painted with messages of hope by students that are placed around the area.
Several of the stars can be seen in Joplin, especially around the site of Joplin High School. The group visited Joplin in September 2011 and provided more than 3,000 stars that community members painted.
That means a lot of stars get painted -- and, more importantly, dried. Each star gets painted twice: once with a single-color base and again by the community member who decorates it with a message.
Smith said that volunteers usually lay out stars on tarps along sidewalks or wherever they can find space.
"We'd take sheets of heavy paper or plastic and put them on the ground or tape them to ceramic floors," Smith said. "It takes up a lot of space and a long time to dry. This solved multiple issues, because it's very hard to move stars when they are laying out flat on plastic. Especially when they are still wet."