Serving the Common Good: Alum scientist helps address shortage of PPE materials

For the last several weeks we've been focusing on alumni who have been working to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, either by helping those on the frontlines or by innovating to improve testing (see Alumni News). Max '05, a scientist and teacher at the Lowell School outside Washington, D.C., is another Country School graduate who is using his knowledge and skills in the battle against COVID-19.

When coronavirus began to sweep across the country in early March, the Washington, D.C.-based Lowell School was shutting its doors for spring break. Rather than taking his time off to relax, Max opted to join Open Source Medical Supplies (OSMS), a group of more than 70,000 people worldwide who bring their skills and expertise together in a public forum to address the shortage of materials in the personal protective equipment supply chain and share stories about response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Max and science students at Lowell School.

We reached out to Max after spotting an article, Crisis Response Alternatives, on the Lowell School website about his activities. Here is an excerpt:

OSMS has attracted people from all types of industries and businesses—from physicians and engineers to individual makers, educators, and field organizers. "I'm using what I know about science to help people," said Max. As part of the documentation team, Max is researching how to use tools in a crisis to create non-traditional pathways to supply production. The resulting 80+ page medical supply guide captures stories of non-traditional efforts used in a crisis. Max and his colleagues hope to clarify for clinicians what individuals are trying to do and to document how to do it well to create more opportunities for crisis-response alternatives. "All kinds of people have a part to play in this because we all have different gifts," said Max, who is particularly interested in small efforts that can become scaled up for mass production.

Growing shortages of medical supplies include face shields, bonnets, isolation gowns, booties, ventilator components, test kit supplies, and masks. As Max dove into the process of producing masks, he became the point person for making and donating masks, as well as a leader in organizing others to mass-produce masks. He has since worked with others on the OSMS team to publish two guides—a local response guide directing organizers of individual local chapters and a more specialized guide for people organizing mask-sewing groups and individuals sewing masks. ... Now there are 153 groups in 36 countries using the guides to make masks, and other supplies with more chapters are on the rise. "Everything is a team effort," Max said, "and it is only by working together that we can make a difference."

We enjoyed catching up with Max, who was a student at Swarthmore College contemplating a career as a science teacher the last time we spoke. He has been at Lowell, where he teaches science to students in 2nd-4th Grades and Outdoor Education students in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, since 2017. (We can think of a few current and former Country School teachers who will love to hear this news!)

After earning his BA in Biology from Swarthmore, Max moved to Washington to work as a post-baccalaureate research associate in a laboratory at the National Institutes of Health. He also served as the Prevention and Education Program Coordinator for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, working to develop abuse and assault prevention programming for students in grades K-12 and higher education. 

Max tells us he thinks about his Country School experiences on a regular basis as he works with students at Lowell. "This school reminds me of TCS in so many ways – small, tight-knit community, a big focus on student voice and choice, innovative curriculum, engagement with the outdoors, and an emphasis on understanding children as whole people," he said. "I find myself thinking about the experiences and people that made TCS special for me as I plan activities to do with my own students. (Could anyone ever hope to be as impactful as Wendy Meyer or Bob Borden?)"

Max said he enjoys reading about what Country School students, teachers, and alumni are doing and appreciates staying connected through social media, particularly at this time. He's also enjoyed hearing about some of our new undertakings, including the Witness Stones Project, the 8th Grade's effort to restore the history and honor the humanity of Lettuce Bailey, a woman who was enslaved in the town of Madison during the 18th century. "One of my colleagues at Lowell brought up the project in a meeting of our SEED group a few months ago, and I know that I felt really proud being able to say, 'Oh! The school that I went to is working with that,'" Max said.

Right back at you, Max! It makes us proud to read about your activities, both as an educator and as a scientist seeking ways to combat this global pandemic. Thank you for embodying the Country School mission, which calls on our students to serve the common good.