Industrial Design Student Puts Best Foot Forward With New Balance
As a high school student, Alexandra Grant always loved her art classes, but she didn’t know how to channel this passion into a career. A university tour her senior year gave her some much-needed clarity.
The guide happened to be an industrial design major and proved to be the ideal spokesperson for the program. She explained the versatility that came with this degree, and Grant knew she found the perfect creative outlet.
“With industrial design, you can work in medical, sustainability, lighting, furniture and more,” says Grant, a native of Skaneateles, N.Y. “You can design toothbrushes if you want.”
This invaluable conversation led Grant to attend Jefferson, and years later, set her on a path to be one of 30 students selected internationally to participate in an intensive Pensole internship at New Balance headquarters in Boston.
Not only that, but she was also just one of two women chosen for the three-week program. (The industrial design field traditionally skews male.)
“It’s a point of pride,” the senior says of the accomplishment.
Grant’s interest in footwear began after many intriguing close encounters with the nearby textile design studios in Hayward Hall.
“Every time I would walk by to go to the woodshop, I’d always see all their yarns and everyone weaving,” she says. “It fascinated me, and I thought, ‘How can we bring those two things together?’”
Grant decided to zero in on soft goods design—one of the handful of concentrations within the industrial design program. Others include furniture design, lighting design, design for health care, user experience design and design visualization.
These sequences of three, three-credit courses help to differentiate industrial design at Jefferson, notes Mark Havens, associate director of the undergraduate program.
“One of the great things about industrial design as an occupation is that it’s so broad,” he says. “Concentrations allow students to gain a deep understanding of a specific area of the profession that interests them. The concentration sequence is embedded in our standard curriculum, which means they get this additional level of expertise without needing to take any additional credits.”
It was in one of these soft goods courses that Grant heard about the Pensole World Sneaker Championship. She entered and became a finalist in the color and material design category along with fellow Jefferson student Elena Krupicka, who ended up winning the title.
While Grant missed out on the top spot, the process revealed additional opportunities through Pensole, including the internship at New Balance. She submitted an original shoe concept and design online (see above) for consideration in the highly competitive program.
“The site kept crashing because so many people were applying,” she recalls.
A short time later, Pensole offered her one of the 30 coveted spots. Grant spent three weeks from January to February 2020 collaborating with experts and top design students from around the world.
Every time I would walk by to go to the woodshop, I’d always see all their yarns and everyone weaving. It fascinated me, and I thought, ‘How can we bring those two things together?’ –Alexandra Grant
For the project, teams of three spent up to 14 hours a day researching, designing, problem-solving and pitching a performance and lifestyle New Balance shoe to be sold at Foot Locker.
“I learned so much from the experience,” says Grant, who hopes to enter the performance material design field after graduation in May. “I gained so many connections, and it opened my eyes to this entire industry, especially the material and color realm.”
Having previous internships with luxury home furnishing company MacKenzie-Childs and medical device firm Hillrom, as well as taking part in Jefferson’s fast-paced annual industrial design week-long sprint competition, Grant was able to excel at New Balance.
“I came in knowing not just how to work hard but also how to work smart,” she says. “That helped me get the maximum out of the opportunity.”