From creating an insect podcast to building robots, middle and high school students with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can explore those interests in an organization at non-profit organization based in the canton of Ypsilanti called UniteSTEM.
The nonprofit’s mission is to make STEM educational resources more accessible and prepare young people in Southeast Michigan for the jobs of the future.
UniteSTEM’s facilities at 389 Airport Industrial Dr. include a computer lab, creative spaces with state-of-the-art equipment like a 3D printer, a podcast recording studio, and a community lounge. It also includes a large open space for performances or yoga classes, a small print center for branded products like t-shirts and mugs, and offices for community partners including non-profit organizations. youth-oriented non-profit. CHALLENGE and Elevation Youth Corp.
UniteSTEM co-founders Frank Norton and Andrea Pisani are both Ypsilanti residents with many years of education experience. Pisani was a math teacher for almost two decades. She was also the supervisor of math and science education for the Washtenaw Middle School Districtand as director of a six-county collaboration called the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network.
Norton is a former affiliate director of Project leads the way in Michigan, a non-profit organization that develops the STEM curriculum for K-12 schools. Pisani says these experiences gave the two founders a great perspective on STEM education across Michigan.
“We had a really good picture of what was available in different parts of Michigan in terms of STEM education,” says Pisani. “We live in Ypsilanti and saw an opportunity. We wanted UniteSTEM to be more than a space to just expose young people to science. We wanted it to be a place where they could learn and do and develop skills that would be useful in the real world.”
UniteSTEM staff Andrea Pisani, Frank Norton and Janae Spears.
Norton says he and Pisani are working to ensure UniteSTEM is “caring, accessible and open to everyone”. The nonprofit currently serves students attending Ypsilanti Community Schools, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Detroit Public Schools, and Lincoln Consolidated Schools, as well as homeschoolers. Families can pay a membership fee to use UniteSTEM’s facilities, although Norton says it and Pisani charge the “lowest possible” to cover their costs and also offer plenty of free programming.
“If families can’t afford to pay, we find a way to make it work,” Norton says.
For three years, UniteSTEM has maintained a particularly strong partnership with Global Technology Academy in Ypsilanti and Central Academy in Ann Arbor – both under the aegis of the charter school management fim Global Educational Excellence (GEE). Students from these schools come to UniteSTEM daily to take their classes online and sometimes receive homework help from UniteSTEM staff. Then, students can work on projects that match their passions.
“For example, one of our kids loves cars, so we 3D printed some turbos for him, because he’s interested in building an engine,” says Pisani. “It gives students the opportunity to take elements of what they’re learning and explore them a bit more, in context. It’s something they don’t always have the opportunity to do in a school system. traditional.”
For example, some high school students learn the math of scaling. They discuss how they can use what they learn at Global Tech to make a drawing and then enlarge it to paint a mural on one of the walls of the UniteSTEM building.
Norton says that all UniteSTEM programs are based on “applied, project-based learning”. The charter school network partnership provides the curriculum necessary to align UniteSTEM programs with state graduation requirements.
“With that initial foundational component, and then building and integrating lessons that pile on those things, you can create individualized, differentiated projects for students,” he says.
DeShawn Chambers, UniteSTEM student.
Norton says education is, at its heart, “an adventure.”
“We want to change ideas about education so it’s not this thing where we open your head, dump information, and you try to do something with it,” Norton said. “School should be about this natural curiosity. It’s not that I need to know how to solve this math problem to pass a test. I’m going to learn this math problem because I design this part or that I’m trying to solve this problem, or fix something, or help someone else.”
Eleventh grader DeShawn Chambers only started UniteSTEM about a month ago, and he’s already exploring his interest in robotics. He connected with the UniteSTEM staff through one of the non-profit organization’s summer programs while still in college. He will work with UniteSTEM staff to record himself assembling a robot from a kit that can take up to eight hours to build. The tutorial videos can then be used to help show other students how to complete this robot.
“When I was younger, I had toys, and I took them apart and put them back together,” he says. “When I first started coming here, seeing all the different things I could get into, I was really interested.”
Seventh grader Luna Bordine can tell you all about Goliath beetles and Atlas moths. She wasn’t always fond of insects, but her father’s interest in insects like praying mantises and moon butterflies changed her mind. Now relatives and friends send him interesting insects, like a palo verde beetle his uncle sent him from Arizona.
She hopes to book some podcast studio time at UniteSTEM soon to create a podcast called “Luna B’s Bug of the Week.” She plans to share facts about a different bug each week and may include a video so viewers can hear what the bugs look like and see what they look like under the microscope.
“I’ve never met another real girl who really loves bugs and likes to hold them,” she says. “I once went to a cicada party and had 12 cicadas on my hand.”
UniteSTEM student Brooklynn Peterson.
Norton and Pisani hope to expand their programming to more ages. They’ve written a curriculum and are trying to get funding for a career exploration program called U|Rise that targets 16-24 year olds.
“It’s a stacked curriculum that goes through career areas over two semesters,” says Norton. “You start by learning engineering design, problem solving, critical thinking and computer skills. You will do construction work, home maintenance and repair, how to lay tiles, repair windows or doors, how to use a CNC router, manufacturing technologies.”
The intensive course would prepare a student to take standardized tests to enter a university program or an apprenticeship. Students would be paid for their time and set up a savings account to help them further their education or buy uniforms or other supplies to help them start a career.
Norton says UniteSTEM is based on the ideas of community and service. It is also about making resources accessible to everyone.
“Engineering, design, mechanics, creativity, it’s all for everyone. It’s not for people with a lot of money. It’s for everyone,” he says.
To get involved with UniteSTEM, Pisani and Norton recommend following the organization’s instructions Facebook or simply by stopping at the establishment. Summer programs go live on UniteSTEM’s website today, and an open day is being prepared for mid-June.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and project manager of On the Ypsilanti field. She joined Concentrate as a news editor in early 2017 and occasionally contributes to other Broadcast Media Group editions. You can reach her at [email protected].
All pictures of Doug Combe.