From the Frontline: Peter Zappala, Assistant Director of Student Projects, L3Harris Student Design Center

From the Frontline is an ongoing series highlighting members of the Florida Tech community who are working tirelessly to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In this installment, Peter Zappala discusses his role as the Assistant Director of Student Projects at the L3Harris Student Design Center.

Q: Please describe your duties related to the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Zappala: Prior to starting to work at home, our team in the L3Harris Student Design Center was working on prototyping and fabricating personal protective equipment for the community. I have continued to do that at home, as well, with a 3D printer I have here. My day-to-day duties have consisted of working with the center staff on figuring out a way to virtualize the Northrup Grumman Student Design Showcase to make sure that our seniors in the College of Engineering and Science can still showcase their hard work. Along with that I received approval from my supervisor to work with Jacqueline Hetherington and the Residence Life team as they seek to ensure students on campus are kept safe. When I attended Florida Tech I was a resident director, so I decided to step in and help because I had experience in the area. Given this pandemic, I feel we should all be putting in the extra effort to help where we can, especially when it pertains to our students’ safety and well-being. So with Jacqueline and her team I have helped conduct walk-throughs of the on-campus community to check in on students and confirm which students are here and which have gone home.

Q: What does it mean to you to play such a key role in assisting the university during this time?

PZ: It means a lot to me. I believe that the best way to lead is by example, and by jumping in to help where needed when needed, no matter whose job it is, it shows how much individuals care about the university and the campus community. Often we are focused on our day-to-day jobs, and we forget how much other departments do on this campus and the fact that we are all needed to give our students the attention and experience they deserve. At the end of the day our focus is on our students, our community and our research. So for me as a Florida Tech employee, my job is not just what is on my job expectations and requirements, it is to do what I need to do to serve those three things. If I am asked to go door-to-door to check on students, I sure am going to do it because it shows them that we care and that we are here to serve them and help them through their college experience.

Q: Talk about some successes and challenges during this unique time.

PZ: The biggest challenge is the fact that everyday things are changing and that we have no prior experience in what to do during these situations. One day you are at work in the office and the next you are told you need to find a way to work from home. One day I was working on assisting students designing their senior projects, the next I find myself talking to students in their residence halls. At the same time it is setting the groundwork for the future and it gives you new experiences that you could not have imagined would have been part of your job.

Q: From your vantage point, how well has the university responded to this pandemic?

PZ: I think everyone has been working hard to figure out a way to make things work. We are all in uncharted waters here, and obviously we have been making mistakes, but we are not letting that stop us. It has been amazing to see an on-campus university be able to convert to a full online university in less than two weeks. That says a lot about the people that work here and the effort they are putting in.

Q: Anyone in the campus community you’d like to highlight?

PZ: The staff that I work with at the L3Harris Student Design Center, CAMID, and the makerspace have been doing a fantastic job helping fabricate personal protective equipment for the community. The project was led by College of Engineering and Science Dean Marco Carvalho, and the three main people assisting have been Juan Avendano, Deep Patel and David Beavers. I know that they have been continuing to show up to the office to make sure that the printers are always running and that we can produce as much as possible to help our local community.

Q: What is a key thing for people to remember during this pandemic?

PZ: You have to have a positive mind, and always be ready to adjust. This is all new to us, and we are going to make mistakes, but as a team we need to continue to work together and remember what our goals are as a university and continue to find a way to achieve those goals. We cannot lose who we are as a university. This is a great time to show off how relentless we are here at Florida Tech.

Find the university’s latest coronavirus updates and information on the Coronavirus Central webpage.

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