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SPDI: A Makerspace Major

Brandon Bernier with the Honey Pod
Brandon Bernier with the Honey Pod

Do you check these boxes?

  • ☑ Hands-on worker
  • ☑ Three-dimensional thinker
  • ☑ Problem-solver

If so, come to campus and check out Keene State’s SPDI program – it may be a perfect fit for you.

Just ask Brandon Bernier. He’s a senior majoring in Sustainable Product Design and Innovation, also known as SPDI – pronounced “speedy.” After high school, Brandon worked in machine shops. When he was ready to take the next step, he enrolled part time at River Valley Community College and then moved on to Keene State, while still working as a machinist.

The SPDI program is all about designing products with an eye toward a sustainable world. If you’ve heard of makerspaces, where people collaborate to explore and use tools from high-tech to low-tech, you have an idea of how SPDI works. In their classes, students don’t just learn about designing products, they actually do it – and then they make prototypes. Brandon used CAD software to design and a 3-D printer to create the Honey Pod, a toolkit for elementary school occupational therapists to use in their work. Now, his sample toolkit is in use a few miles down the road from Keene, at Antrim Elementary School.

The Honey Pod is a portable storage container with honeycomb-shaped compartments that hold a number of games, puzzles, and toys that help kids develop their fine motor skills. Brandon made the container and everything in it – with the exception of some Silly Putty and a shoestring for shoe-tying practice – using a plant-based plastic.

“I feel like I’m on the path that I want to be on,” says Brandon, who developed the kit after talking with the occupational therapist at the Antrim school. Recently, he was asked by the dean of Sciences, Sustainability, and Health to demonstrate the Honey Pod for a group of high-school guidance counselors who were visiting Keene State, to show the kind of creative, hands-on learning that is the hallmark of SPDI. They were impressed, as were his classmates, who tried out the various activities in the kit.

Better yet, Brandon had a chance to spend some time at Antrim Elementary talking with students who were working with the occupational therapist and watching them engage with the motor-skills activities. He’s looking into the possibility of marketing his kit, and is looking into issues including patents, crowd funding, and costs. His dream is to start his own business one day that incorporates a design studio and a shop with machine tools.

“In high school,” he remembers, “I was sharp, but I wasn’t a strong academic person. I liked certain subject areas like shop – the hands-on stuff and the thinking behind it. This program is great because it provides skills that you can build on until you’re an expert.”

Learn more about SPDI at Keene State.

Come visit the Keene State campus and tour the Technology, Design, and Safety (TDS) Center, home to the SPDI program.

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