Q&A with Bre Pettis, Undergraduate Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient

Commencement speaker 2015 videoSUNY New Paltz will award an honorary doctorate of humane letters (L.H.D.) degree to Bre Pettis, during the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 17.

Tell us about Bold Machines and the types of projects you do here.
Bold Machines is the innovation workshop of Stratasys. We work with innovators and help them navigate the prototyping stage of 3D printing technology. What would probably take someone a year to navigate on their own, we bring down to a couple of weeks. We jump start the innovation process. We get to show people the tools they’re going to use and get them to use them so they’re living in the future.

It’s been a year since the launch of the MakerBot Innovation Center at SUNY New Paltz. Where are we a year later?
The MakerBot Innovation Center at SUNY New Paltz is groundbreaking. It’s pioneering. It’s an amazing space that gives this awesome resource to the students … and the community. I’m excited to actually hear from the students about how it’s going. You’ve got the mechanical engineering department, you’ve got the jewelry department, and they’re both mixing in this innovation center. I’m just curious to find out if businesses have started or what kind of scheming is taking place.

Why did you think New Paltz would be a good place for innovation and creativity?
When I met with (President) Don Christian, he was committed to making sure the MakerBot Innovation Center would be a powerful experience for the students. They were going to get a taste of the future and get ahead of the rest of the world. That commitment made me say, “I want to commit, too. Game on. Let’s see what we can do.”

Whatever you do, whatever opportunities you get, whatever finger hold you can get in the world, get the most out of it. Commit to it.

Can you give us a taste of what you might say to students at Commencement?
What a lot of people are going to tell you, as a graduating student, is that “Maybe you should go do this. Maybe you should fit in this mold. Maybe there’s this job that’s perfect, if you can make yourself look like this. Try and form yourself to the rest of the world.” I say, figure out who you are, what your passions are, how you can interface your passions with the world. There might not be a perfect fit at first. Whatever you do, whatever opportunities you get, whatever finger hold you can get in the world, get the most out of it. Commit to it. Learn as much as you can from it. You might find that what you get out of your first couple of jobs is figuring out what you don’t want. But you’ve got to put yourself out there. Go and attack the world. Grab it by its throat. If nobody will hire you, start your own business and make something else happen.

Things have changed. Your grandparents went out and got a job, and that was the job they had for their whole career. You’re going to have 15, 20, maybe 50 jobs in your lifetime. You have to make the most of it. You might say, the job I want isn’t out there, so I’m going to have to start a business to do what I want to do in the world, to have an impact. Even if you’re in a position that’s not perfect, push as hard as you can so that whatever you do next, you’re known for being that person who committed 200 percent, and rocked it.

Why do you think innovation and creativity are so important for college students to have?
What I hope you’ve learned from having the Makerbot Innovation Center at SUNY New Paltz is that you’ve learned to try and try again. It’s a wild world out there. Things are getting designed collaboratively, iteratively, in a way they haven’t been before. To iterate on a product, each reissue used to take a month. Now, you can have an idea, and that same day, you can start making your first prototype. You get to iterate as much in a day as you used to be able to in a year. This idea of iteration is really powerful as you go out into the world. The idea that you can try, and try again, is awesome. America is great for this. We give ourselves permission to screw things up and start over again. So as you go out there, be ready for catastrophes. In fact, expect them. Make the most of them. And then do it again. But better.

New Paltz is home to the nation’s first MakerBot innovation Center, which launched just over a year ago.