Partnership brings STEM studios to elementary schools

Jace Gogel, 8, a second-grader at Holland Elementary School placed a cup decorated like a bunny on top of the Sphero robot as Kaiden Tempel, 7, also a second-grader, waited to tell it what to do next. The prop was used in a recent challenge in which students programmed the Spheros to complete a maze.

Students in two Dubois County elementary schools and one Perry County elementary school will have access to robots, 3D printers and other technology to invigorate and inspire STEM learning.

Through a partnership between Vincennes University, Purdue and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education Works combined with a $2.5 million Lilly Endowment Grant, the newly created Design and Innovation Studios will be available in Perry Central Elementary School, Holland Elementary School and Northeast Dubois Elementary School.

The studios provide a variety of opportunities for schools, educators, students, and industry to discover new ways to explore design-thinking, problem-solving, technology, and creative skill sets. In addition, the studio provide hands-on experience with additive manufacturing, robotics, coding, engineering, and science learning through the use of relevant STEM equipment and technology.

The new studios are outfitted by STEM Education Works and come with an educational curriculum to assist schools with implementing the equipment into regular school work. As part of the program, schools are asked to have teachers undergo additional training and incorporate the technology lesson plans into their classes.

According to Sascha Harrell, director for education and training through IN-Mac — Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center through Purdue, the goal of the program is to build some of the foundational skills and interests in STEM at an early age. While these current processes and technologies may be much different by the time second-grader graduates from high school or university, the skills they are introduced to will help build the foundation to better work with whatever comes next.

Harrell pointed out that this also allows an earlier introduction to STEM and could impact their performance as they advance through school.

Christine Mills, president of STEM Education Works, stated the earlier the connections to these technologies and curricula occur, the better for students. Especially for girls.

(Left) Lilah Rasche, 10, a fourth-grader at Holland Elementary School, and Piper Nichter, 10, fourth grade, operated Spheros during the dedication. In addition to the Spheros, the lab has programmable robotic arms, 3D printers and circuit board bits.

“If we don’t get girls interested by the third grade, they are going to self-select out (of engineering fields),” Mills said.

Mills wants to see more girls in these roles but acknowledged this solves a bigger issue of the lack of people in these types of jobs. “I want to see more girls in engineering jobs,” she said. “We have such a shortage. Not just in women and minorities, but in people just doing these jobs.”

STEM Education Works also developed the curriculum to accompany the equipment. As part of the agreement through the partnership, schools give students 90 minutes of access to STEM skills weekly.

Mills explained this can be accomplished by bringing those STEM skills into play in different scenarios. She described an example of students talking about money in society. Covering the history, researching the creation and development of monetary standards and then, being asked to create their own monetary system.

“Then, they’re gonna design that money and 3D print it,” she said.

That whole process will likely be a more impactful lesson than reading a book, taking notes and then being quizzed on what they memorized.

Holland Elementary School’s new studio takes up a portion of the library. Each participating school is required to have a dedicated space for the studio.

According to Vincennes University President Dr. Chuck Johnson, the program meets the needs of the students as well as Indiana’s manufacturers.

“We’re all looking for how to engage students in this kind of subject matter at an early age, so they can be prepared for the next phase of their career academically or in terms of work,” he said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing things to build that innate curiosity, self-learning capability that can be used not just in elementary school, high school and college but beyond and throughout their lives.”

The groups celebrated the new studios with ribbon-cutting events at Holland Elementary School (photo) and NE Dubois Elementary School Monday afternoon. Another ribbon cutting is planned in Perry County later this week.

Here are some photos of the NE Dubois dedication.



  1. “[Christine Mills, president of STEM Education Works] wants to see more girls in these roles but acknowledged this solves a bigger issue of the lack of people in these types of jobs. ‘I want to see more girls in engineering jobs,’ she said. ‘We have such a shortage. Not just in women and minorities, but in people just doing these jobs.'”

    The notion of a shortage of domestic STEM workers in the US is demonstrably false. Data from the Census Bureau confirmed that a stunning 3 in 4 Americans with a STEM degree do not hold a job in a STEM field—that’s a pool of more than 11 million Americans with STEM qualifications who lack STEM employment. The US Census shows that of those college graduates who majored in Computers, Mathematics and Statistics (1,959,730), 50.81% did not hold a job in a STEM field. Of those who majored in Engineering (3,340,430), 50.54% did not hold a job in a STEM field[1].

    These are constantly growing numbers: Rutgers Professor Hal Salzman, a top national expert on STEM labor markets, estimates that “U.S. colleges produce twice the number of STEM graduates annually as find jobs in those fields.”[2]

    There is, in fact, a glut of STEM-trained domestic talent. Cries of a “shortage” have existed at least since Sputnik. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true today. Talk of a long-term labor shortage completely ignores how labor markets function in a democratic, free market society.

    To get minorities and females (and, hey, why not throw in people over the age of 35) in STEM fields, get rid of OPT and the H-1B visa, as the vast majority of beneficiaries of these programs are south Asian Indian males under the age of 35[3].

    [1] US Census Bureau, “Census Bureau Reports Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations, Release Number: CB14-130”, July 10, 2014

    [2] Salzman, Hal, “STEM Grads Are at a Loss”, U.S. News, September 15, 2014

    [3] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers, Fiscal Year 2019, Annual Report to Congress, March 5, 2020

  2. Loogootee Schools have been involved with the STEM program for maybe 10 years. In fact, it is a STEM certified school. I’m glad Dubois County is catching up!

  3. Such a strange comment across the board. What exactly is your motivation for writing this?

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