The fight against COVID-19 necessitated the rise of PPE, and as restrictions were lifted and the general public re-entered society, the need for PPE designed for diverse bodies and populations became apparent. SUNY seeded this grant to develop PPE and other healthcare protocols, which will continue to be necessary in containing the virus in the coming months and other infectious diseases in the future.
With PPE for Diverse Bodies: FIT for Diverse Populations, the research team answered SUNY’s call from October 2020 and worked to blend practical experiences and classroom study. Students were involved at all phases of the project: from initial product design (Fashion Design), to the selection of appropriate sustainable materials (Science; Textile Development and Marketing), and prototype development (Production Management). All benefited by seeing the whole process from design to production. All project activities were conducted virtually, given that access to campus facilities was limited.
The team designed, developed, and produced a zero-waste, adaptable face mask that fits diverse body types. Using a STEAM (STEM+Art) approach, they identified a sustainable material, designed a new mask with adaptable features, and created a prototype with comfort, visibility, and safety as key design drivers.
FIT was one of just a few campuses awarded Chancellor Malatras’s first grant initiative, the SUNY Prepare Innovation and Internship Grant. This fast-track program addressed COVID-19 challenges and allowed the FIT team and others to research and create innovative approaches to social and medical issues. The FIT students presented the project as part of the program SUNY Student Success Summit: Embracing Equity and Building Inclusive Excellence in April 2021. The program not only provided real life, hands-on applied learning experiences for students and actively involved them in the creation of pandemic-related solutions, but also created a prototype that addresses the diverse bodies and populations typically left out with traditional PPE.
The deliverable of this project is a zero-waste PPE face mask prototype that can be adaptable to the unique body type of the wearer. FIT’s production management department will make the new face mask, with a longer-term goal of creating a product plan for production in New York State, possibly New York City. FIT’s Production Management facilities have produced PPE prototypes for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and therefore the team understands the limitations for the production and design of PPE. Production Management could also make the new environmentally friendly, adaptable face mask in a high-quality and cost-effective manner.
The project team is committed to sharing research outcomes with other SUNY campuses. The faculty members will participate in one or more SUNY STEM conferences to disseminate project results. (Karen Pearson, professor and chair of Science and Math, has presented at SUNY STEM conferences in prior years.) This project provides a model for interdisciplinary learning which can enrich curriculum.