STEM School takes giant step forward

New engineering lab gives students leg up on competition

Cole Simpson and Pourna Sengupta work on their mousetrap car Oct. 30 in the engineering lab at STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch.
Dressed for Halloween, Carrie Morgridge talks to students George Pandya, left, and Aidan McDonald Oct. 30 before the dedication reception for the STEM School and Academy's new engineering lab. The Morgridge Family Foundation donated $100,000 to help make the lab a reality.
Andrew Krawciw, second from right, works with students Oct. 30 in one of STEM School and Academy's labs.
Carter Baller works on his project in the STEM School and Academy's engineering lab Oct. 30.
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Thanks to a $100,000 donation from the Morgridge Family Foundation, Highlands Ranch’s STEM School and Academy has a brand new engineering lab.

Complete with brand-new drill presses, a CNC router, a 3-D printer, band saw and a laser cutter and engraver, the high-tech equipment was purchased for the second-year school in part by the foundation, along with a matching donation from the school.

“All this equipment was much needed,” said engineering teacher Mike Shallenberger. “Before the Morgridge family’s gift, kids were basically using all the old equipment that I had collected throughout my career; equipment that had piled up in my garage that was older than the kids. This gets us into the 21st century.”

Putting the equipment to immediate use, the STEM Academy picked up four first-place awards and one second out of seven categories at the state’s Best of Robotics competition this October.

“With the laser cutter the students could design a gear that was within a thousandth of an inch in tolerance and it worked flawlessly,” Shallenberger said. “So while other people’s robots were struggling getting stuck in the course, ours went up and down and did everything they were supposed to do every time. We could not have done it without this equipment.”

On the day in which the lab was dedicated by Carrie Morgridge and her husband, John, the excitement for the students was simply contagious.

“This equipment removes almost all possibility for error, which really makes prototyping a bigger focus and puts less focus on building when we need to prototype,” said ninth-grader George Pandya, who is on the academy’s robotics team and said that the after-school academy is a huge perk of the second-year school.

“We have mentors from just about every STEM field. It’s really awesome,” he said, adding that having the opportunity to work with engineers from United Launch Alliance and Lockheed Martin, among others, helps prepare students for the future.

“I wish when I was in high school I had something like this,” said Bill Clark, a retired Ph.D. and volunteer who worked at Hughes Aircraft Research Lab in California and taught engineering at Berkeley. “The technology is so advanced now that everything they get to do and get their hands on is extremely important.”

The Morgridge family was treated to a dedication reception at the school Oct. 30, where numerous students took turns at the podium, thanking them and telling them what STEM means to them. Afterward, Carrie Morgridge spoke to the students.

“When I was little, education looked a lot differently,” she said. “Email didn’t exist, imagine that. Twitter was something a bird did, the cloud was something in the sky and 4G was a parking space.

“What you guys are doing here is so amazing. … I want to thank everyone here for their commitment to America and your commitment to going beyond the status quo.”

For more information about the school and academy, visit www.stemhigh.org.