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Matt Dunster ’16: One Week, 20,000 Face Shields

DEPARTMENT(S): 
April 9, 2020

In life without the COVID-19 pandemic, Matt Dunster ’16 is vice president at Special Technical Services, Inc., in Hackettstown, N.J. The family-owned business makes static ground monitoring systems that stop static discharge around volatile materials, protecting individuals and communities from catastrophic events such as explosions.

In life with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunster has completely shifted the company’s focus to help address a critical need in the medical community: personal protective equipment. Working with his

Mount Olive High School engineering and industrial design teacher, David Bodmer, volunteers from robotics teams, and others, Dunster has been able to produce 20,000 face shields in a week. The face shields are being donated to hospitals and first responders throughout New Jersey and around the country.

“We’re trying to meet the immediate demand,” says Dunster, a mechanical engineering major whose Mount Olive teacher first turned him on to WPI. “There’s such an immediate demand right now.”

Dunster has some first-hand knowledge of the demand for personal protective equipment: his sister is an oncology nurse at Hackensack Meridian Health. “I was watching my sister in the field, on the front lines, right outside of New York City thinking, ‘there has to be something we can do,’” he says.

Meanwhile, employees in his company had been furloughed for their own health and safety as the virus began to spread, leaving an empty facility while Dunster was starting to see plans for 3-D printed masks circulating from multiple sources. When he determined 3-D printing would be too slow, someone else connected him to a firm in Pennsylvania that could laser cut the largest face-shield pieces, and a plan was formulated.

“It really just took a few of us to start the snowball effect,” Dunster says. “It’s easy to do if you can put a few posts on Facebook and put a purpose behind it.”

Dunster and a small team—social distancing required—took delivery of the laser cut pieces by the end of the first week of April. The smaller components had already been made at Special Technical Services, where the small crew hand assembled the face shields. It was the type of work, he explained, that went faster with fewer hands. In addition, Dunster and his team raised $40,000 through crowdfunding to offset the cost of producing the face shields; the shields were donated free of cost wherever they were needed, coordinated through Warren County, N.J. emergency services and state police and through requests to the Marauder Innovation Learning Lab at Mount Olive High School.

Dunster found his WPI experience came in handy during this endeavor—organizing remote teams of people with various skill sets, pivoting quickly, solving problems on the fly, and all while also running a company. These are skills he credits to his time at WPI as Student Government Association treasurer, a member of Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society, an Admissions representative, and a member of Phi Kappa Theta. Not to mention engaging in hands-on, project-based learning during WPI’s seven-week terms.

“The whole thinking outside the box mentality—this is a real-world situation we’re a part of. I think WPI gets you ready for real-world experiences like this.”