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Science and technology lab opens at Colorado Springs Boys & Girls Club

April 28, 2017 Updated: April 29, 2017 at 4:08 pm
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Shanna Garcia writes message of gratitude to Raytheon on the interactive screen in the new STEM Center of Innovation at the E.A. Tutt Boys & Girls Club on S. Chelton Rd. The club held a celebration and ribbon cutting on Thursday, April 27, 2017 for the new center. Raytheon chose Colorado Springs as one of 22 locations nationwide to open a Center of Innovation. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

Kids could hardly contain themselves Thursday afternoon at the E.A. Tutt Boys & Girls Club on Colorado Springs' southeast side.

The moment they had been looking forward to for seven months had arrived.

When it was time, squeals, screams and scrambling erupted to see what was behind the paper that had covered the windows of the old art room.

A nearly $17,000 science, technology, engineering and math lab with two 3-D printers, an interactive projector and a large screen, robotics equipment and two supercomputers with CADD programming awaited.

The grand opening was like a giant high-tech Christmas present.

"It was worth the wait," said Daisha Miller, a ninth-grader at James Irwin Charter Schools. "I'm glad we got it. The younger and the older kids get to use it."

It's the ninth Center of Innovation out of 22 to open in communities with high concentrations of military families, said Todd Probert, a vice president at Raytheon.

The company announced last September that Colorado Springs had been selected as a site for the initiative, which is being done in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Having an innovation center in Colorado Springs is "kind of a double win for us," Probert said.

"I can't think of a more worthy club," he said. "With Colorado Springs being a military town, it makes sense."

Probert said more than 2 million American children have parents in the military, and military families tend to move every two to four years.

"We wanted to make sure military families didn't get shortchanged in access to STEM," he said.

Defense and cybersecurity contractor Raytheon, which has about 400 employees in Colorado Springs, is providing $5 million to build such centers around the globe and also will supply volunteers to help children develop STEM skills.

"We've dabbled in STEM over the years, but this takes us to a different level," said James Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region.

The new STEM center is open to all 1,300 members of the local club, he said. Children ages 5-18 can go to clubs after school to do homework, play sports and participate in other activities at a cost of $1 per day.

In addressing the crowd at the grand opening, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said it's no secret that STEM jobs are in high demand, and Colorado Springs is developing into a hub for workers.

"The Boys & Girls Club is a fantastic educational and social resource in Colorado Springs, and now will provide access to advance technology to develop STEM skills," he said.

Alicia Martinez, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student and treasurer of the Modern Engineering Society, has been hired as the local STEM coordinator.

"It's going to bring a lot of opportunities for these kids," she said. "Most of them don't get STEM education to this degree. It's self-paced, and they can work on various activities that really bring STEM principles to life."

At the grand opening, some club members used a string of Christmas lights and batteries to create an electrical circuit.

Others drew on the large interactive screen, watched a 3-D printer work its magic and learned about robotics from members of Coronado High School's award-winning robotics team.

Nine-year-old Tiran Charles had been waiting all week for the opening and was excited to see periodic tables on the walls.

He demonstrated a blender he had made using Lego robotics equipment.

"Is it going to be open every day?" he asked.

The fourth-grader at Pikes Peak Elementary School is already doing seventh-grade math. When he grows up, Tiran wants to be a math teacher or astronaut.

"He's very serious about it," said his mother, Fawna Charles. "He doesn't get it from me. This is a great outlet for kids like Tiran. His mind is geared toward learning about science and math, and it's awesome this is here."

Shanna Garcia, a sixth-grader at Global Village Academy, said the center will be "a great way for kids to put their mindset on something. This is way funner than the art room was."

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