By Katie Malatino

When Joel McCandless ’27 and his student-maker peers learned about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers during the early part of the COVID pandemic, they took matters into their own hands.

“We knew we could print a multitude of designs with our 3D printers, and the most easily manufactured plastic PPE was face shields,” said McCandless. “We found online designs from the maker community that were constantly being improved in response to feedback from frontline workers. Agreeing on a design, we all began printing it as fast as we could.”

The students delivered the face shields to McCandless’ home in Lexington, Massachusetts, where his family helped him form an assembly line to make each one into a finished product. The McCandless family laser cut transparent, plastic sheets for the visors, joined the visors with the printed plastic head pieces, and then boxed them up for delivery.

“Our group of eight students delivered 1,200 face shields to hospitals in Massachusetts, 700 to our public school system for teachers and staff who would be returning in person, and 600 to cities across the U.S. who were still in need,” McCandless said.

McCandless seems the perfect fit for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: interests in science and engineering combined with a desire to make a difference in the world. This fall, he’s excited to immerse himself in the Rensselaer community, which he calls “kind and generous,” and assert his independence as a young adult, as well.

“I’m most looking forward to the internal reflection that accompanies living away from home,” said McCandless. “My family is super tight-knit so I know I will miss them dearly, but I’m prepared to embrace this time of change and excited to see the person I become.”

McCandless is pursuing a dual major in computer science and computer systems engineering, and he will play on the tennis team.