‘If Not Me, Then Who?’ Michael Shia Discuses Making PPE During the Pandemic

DATE:  May 18, 2020     CATEGORIES:  Community

Masks, face shields, gowns—personal protective equipment (PPE) and the safety of essential workers and medical providers has been on the minds of Artisan Asylum members since March 24, when Massachusetts issued its stay-at-home order. For the past eight weeks, they have pulled together to research, create, and reverse engineer equipment that has aided the community.

Artisan’s Member Michael Shia (left) has served as team lead of the group making disposable face shields based on an open-sourced design developed by the University of Wisconsin. To date, approximately 2,500 disposable face shields have been made at the Asylum and just under 2,000 have been shipped to front-line workers in the community. With these accomplishments, Mike was kind enough to share some insights into his experiences creating PPE during the pandemic and more.

Q: What have you personally learned during this experience, shifting from what you normally make at Artisan’s Asylum to producing PPE?
I enjoy making stuff—this effort was making stuff with a specific purpose. That purpose was simply to help front line medical workers have the protection they need to be safe. I am also driven by the fact that my son, Sam, was on the front lines of this medical effort as a nurse.

In a text message exchange I had with my son about him working at the BMC ER, his comment was, “If not me, then who.” I asked myself the same question: “If not me, then who?”

Q: What is the most unexpected challenge you had to navigate while making PPE?
The biggest challenge for me has been the organic nature of how we got started—no one was on the same page. The left hand did not know what the right was doing. That all was resolved once we realized that our efforts were an Asylum community effort. We even rebranded ourselves as “Makers For Humanity.”

At this time, more people were realizing the need for PPE. Larger [groups] were organizing, like the Open Source COVID Medical Supply Facebook group. Some of us looked to find what low-hanging fruit would be best for the Asylum [to make]. For me, that was disposable face shields.

Q: How do you think this experience (the pandemic and making PPE) will influence your future work at Artisan’s and/or professionally?
I think it will have no effect on my future, being that I am coming to retirement age. If I were much younger, I am sure the disruption would have some effect—how much, who knows?

I think the notion of resiliency is what will determine who recovers, who doesn’t, who looks at this as a growth experience, etc.

Q: What do you think about the teamwork and community that you have experienced? What have you learned about leadership in recent weeks?
The Artisan’s community has a culture of teamwork. It is expected that you will help others, as you hope others will help you when in need.

As for leadership, it has been very good. [Artisan’s Asylum Executive Director] Lars Torres has done a good job with limited resources. After all, this organization started organically bottom-up and not top-down. Members want to know where this organization is going, how it is getting there, etc.

Q: Artisan’s Asylum is a unique maker space with a close community. What aspects unique to Artisan’s aided you in the process of developing and creating PPE?
Artisan’s was a place where I could be enabled to do more—like make PPE. It did not recruit me/us to do this, we recruited the Asylum and all its resources to do this. [It’s] totally a community and member effort in which the institution followed.

With the efforts of more than 200 volunteers and members, Artisan’s Asylum’s COVID-19 initiative has resulted in 11,500 units of PPE produced, including 8,000 gowns and 3,500 shields. For more information, visit https://artisansasylum.com/covid/.