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Creating a big STEAM impact on a small budget

January 03, 2017

By Jennifer Henrikson

How a small STEAM Center in Katy ISD is offering STEAM curriculum to their students at a low cost to the district

The future is now! Technology is changing at a rapid pace, and with it, so are the skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Many of the jobs from only 5 or 10 years ago have been replaced by computers and robots. Jobs today require employees who are collaborative, creative, flexible, and have good communication skills. Our educators are faced with preparing students for this rapidly evolving workforce, and in doing so, have found a highly effective way - through using STEAM curriculum. 

What’s so great about STEAM?

Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, or (STEAM) creates opportunities for students to have hands-on experience in solving complex problems. The benefits are clear, but finding a way to create these opportunities for students can be expensive. It can be a challenge for school districts to provide the space and tools for STEAM due to budget restraints.

A solution for school districts of all sizes

Katy Independent School District (ISD) is a fast-growth suburban district in Texas encompassing 181 square miles west of Houston. With 8 high schools and more than 73,000 students, district leadership was overwhelmed with the task of creating STEAM education opportunities for every student in the district. Replicating the potentially expensive spaces and equipment required to provide this curriculum at each campus was not financially feasible. So, Katy ISD decided to provide one, centralized, district-wide facility with all the amenities.

Our client wanted a unique space for its students to explore their creativity. The result—the Robert R. Shaw Center for STEAM—is an incubator for innovation that feels anything but traditional.

The Robert R. Shaw Center for STEAM provides space for design, collaboration, construction, testing, and exhibiting student projects of all types. At only 24,000 sf, and a modest budget of $4.9 million, this small facility has an impact far greater than facilities ten times its size within the district. The STEAM Center is open to every student and teacher within the district, and frequently hosts community events open to the public.

The Shaw Center’s simple and highly flexible design has a central high-bay space to accommodate exhibits, demonstrations, and projects. Eight project bays are located around the perimeter, which provide the space for students to design and build their projects. A shared shop provides students the ability to use large, high-end equipment that are typically not accessible to students. Writable walls and technology are infused within every inch of the facility to enable students to move through the design/create/test/and exhibit phases of a project seamlessly, and all under one roof.

Within the first three months of the Shaw Center’s grand opening, the facility hosted over 2,000 students for various events. The highly flexible facility is a design/build space for the district robotics teams, and has accommodated large field trips, summer camps, science movie nights, and staff development events. The new facility’s success has been heralded by all. The Shaw Center also gives community members and businesses a venue to get involved in a student’s education through mentorship, sponsorship, and engagement. 

Katy ISD’s approach to immersing students in STEAM education through this center has meant high impact at low cost, and this district-wide model provides a potential for districts of all size to provide hands-on STEAM education for all of their students. 

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