The $1.8 million lab will also be extended in coming months to include a new wood shop.
DELRAN —Dressed in personalized T-shirts they’d pressed themselves with new equipment, dozens of students eagerly showed off Delran’s new fabrication and innovation laboratory to parents, local business partners and Congressman Andy Kim, at its grand opening.
The $1.8 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fabrication laboratory opened for use at the beginning of the school year, in an annex at the back of the high school that was once home to its former auto shop.
The project, completed by Garrison Architects, was supported by capital reserve funds, donations — including $20,000 from Overdeck Family Foundation — and the district’s yearly budget.
However, the lab is not quite done yet. At Thursday’s grand opening, Superintendent Brian Brotschul also announced that the board of education approved a $609,000 proposal Monday night from the Sewell-based W.J. Gross Construction for a project to expand the fabrication lab and add a wood shop.
“It’s so exciting to have the lab up and running, and to provide all these opportunities we envisioned for our students,” said Mary Jo Hutchinson, co-coordinator of Delran’s STEM program. “We’re looking forward to seeing just how far they go.”
“The possibilities are limitless, as the work continues and we break through to the wood shop and add even more tools,” she added.
Hutchinson said she’s also looking forward to introducing the lab to younger students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and seeing students and teachers familiarize themselves with the space and host community events.
The lab includes a 26-station digital design studio, 3-D printers, paper and vinyl cutters, a heat press, a sublimation printer and large format banner printer, an electronics and soldering station, a shaper tool, and laser cutters.
In future construction, the school district will add a pass-through to the new wood shop, a desktop “shopbot” and a computer-controlled cutting machine. School officials have said the lab will prepare students for STEM careers and help close unemployment gaps in those fields in the future, noting that it’s harder to retain women and minorities in STEM.
“It’s been an amazing learning and teaching experience,” sophomore Mason Williams said. “We’ve taught teachers, just trying to get it out to a general audience so eventually, everyone will be able to work in here and create something.”
His older sister, Simone Williams, added, “You’re always learning something new every time you’re in the lab. It’s always different.”
Sophomore Andrew Menson said working in the lab is preparing him for a future career in STEM.
“Just being able to have this facility that’s super high-tech and advanced, is really awesome because I’ll be able able to experiment and get a sense of what I want to do,” Andrew said.
The grand opening also featured a panel on the current status of STEM education with New Jersey Assistant Education Commissioner Linda Eno; Anna Payanzo Cotton, vice president of Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning at Rowan College at Burlington; Carolyn Mattern, Pharmacy Supervisor at Grand View Health; and Kya Jones, a sophomore and STEM ambassador at Delran High. The panel was moderated by Kim Case, manager of the New Jersey STEM Pathways Network.
“I like to think of it as Disney World,” Jones said of the fabrication lab. “My favorite thing is the 3-D printers. You can build anything you could imagine. It’s long, but to watch it building a creation in your head, it’s magical.”
.@AndyKimNJ speaks about the importance of science, tech, engineering + math education at @DelranSTEM’s fabrication/innovation lab grand opening. “The outcomes that start from that room 2 doors down could have reverberations that stem beyond our wildest imaginations,” Kim said. pic.twitter.com/xmoybzZQZO
— Gianluca D’Elia (@gianluca_delia) November 22, 2019
Following the panel, Kim took the stage and discussed the importance of a strong STEM background. The Cherry Hill native shared that his father obtained a doctorate in genetics after surviving polio, homelessness and living in an orphanage during his childhood in South Korea.
“As a father to two baby boys now, raising them just a couple of miles from where I grew up, I see this community in a whole other light,” said Kim, D-3 of Moorestown. “It helps me understand why my parents chose South Jersey to raise me and my sister. It all came down to the schools.
“The house was a little more expensive than they can afford, but they were willing to make that investment, the same way all of you are willing to make that investment in our kids today.”