PCDC Gives Major Boost to Local Education

13 Dec 2018

A new mobile STEM lab designed to spark learning opportunities and bring cutting-edge technology to area students received a $15,000 boost from the Phelps County Development Corporation.

The PCDC Board of Directors approved the donation to help fund the CSI (Create, Solve & Innovate) Lab that is being created through a partnership between the Educational Service Unit 11, area manufacturers (including BD) and public power companies.

A total of $125,000 is needed to launch the CSI lab that will be made available to 1,450 south-central Nebraska seventh and eighth graders.

PCDC Executive Director Ron Tillery said the lab could help in efforts to create a quality Phelps County workforce in the future.

“They are focusing on many of the same high-demand job categories that we have identified for scholarships,” Tillery said of the lab. “The real benefit is the lab is supporting the development of a workforce from within rather than recruiting people.”

PCDC Board Member Fred Diedrichsen said the board originally budgeted a $5,000 donation for the project but decided to triple the donation to represent $5,000 for each of the three Phelps County school districts.

Diedrichsen said workforce development is a hot topic both locally and nationally, and he sees the CSI lab as a way to introduce students to new technology and get them excited about local careers.

“We have the best chance of supplying our workforce if we can keep students here,” he said.

The lab will feature 10 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) opportunities, including a 3D printer lab, a CNC machine, an engineering workshop with motors, multi-meters and wires, a robotics innovation lab, MakeyMakey + Raspberry Pi Lab, Virtual Reality, Smart Home Automation, Electronics, Sensor Station, Robotics Innovation Lab, Advanced Manufacturing and Plotter/Cutter lab.

Dave Arnold, president of Royal Engineered Composites in Minden, said the idea for the CSI lab came after seeing other similar models created by Nebraska Public Power District and BD in Broken Bow. Most of the technology presented to students in the lab is used every day at Royal and other businesses in local communities.

“There’s a wealth of technology all around us, and this reflects that,” he said.

Arnold said the lab will help teachers meet new technology curriculum standards.

“Not all the schools have the means to put something like this together, so it’s a way of supplementing that,” Arnold said.

And, it will give students a picture of potential future career opportunities.

“Kids these days need to be exposed to more opportunities to see what’s available to them for a career,” Arnold said. “It’d be great to keep them here, but it’s also helping the kids decide what it is they want to do with their lives. It’s a difficult decision.”

The CSI lab will be made available to each of the 13 schools in the ESU 11 region for two weeks each year for the next three years. The lab will also be available for summer programming opportunities. Schools include Holdrege, Alma, Arapahoe, Axtell, Bertrand, Cambridge, Elwood, Eustis-Farnam, Franklin, Loomis, Minden, Southern Valley and Wilcox-Hildreth.

Staff from local power districts, including Two Rivers Public Power, Dawson Public Power and Southern Power District, along with ESU 11 staff will help set up the labs at each school in classrooms, media centers or gymnasiums, Arnold said. At the conclusion of the lab time, staff from local manufacturing or other businesses may visit with students about how the technology in the lab translates into careers.

The $125,000 being raised to support the lab includes staffing costs for three years for ESU 11 staff to organize and maintain the lab and equipment. The CSI lab may be ready to test at a few schools by the spring of 2019 with the goal of being fully operational by the 2019-20 school year.

For more information about PCDC or the CSI lab funding, please contact Ron Tillery at Ron@PhelpsCountyNE.com or (308) 995-4148.