By Valerie Gross
Two years ago, when Howard County Library System (HCLS) began planning a 50 percent space increase for its Savage Branch, a team of HCLS visionaries proposed an opportunity: Why not design a cool, jazzy space to serve as headquarters for HiTech, HCLS’ cutting-edge STEM education initiative for teens?
This idea led to the HCLS Savage Branch & STEM Education Center, opening this summer. The venue will boast an Einstein Classroom, George Washington Carver Science Lab, Oscar Micheaux audio/video room, Curie Café, Leonoardo DaVinci Conference Room, and Gallileo Laptop Bar — all perfect for HiTech!
So what is HiTech?
Launched in 2012 with a $100K grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and IMLS, HiTech teaches science, technology, engineering, and math through project-based classes. Grouped into four modules (Interact, Improvise, Invent, and Instruct), each class level involves a greater level of instruction. Subjects include computer programming, 3D animation, nanotechnology, music/video production, e-books, game apps, cybersecurity, green energy, and robotics.
Led by Chief Operating Officer Angela Brade, the HiTech team adds topics of interest to the curriculum based on teen feedback. Examples include engineering weather balloons, robots, and hovercrafts; as well as designing, writing, and publishing e-books (e.g., Chapters of Civility) and mobile games (e.g., Escape From Detention and Cyborg Glitch) that are available for free from iTunes and Google Play.
And when girls expressed an interest in fashion, HiTech instructors developed a series of classes called Technology of Fashion. Students explored such topics as the staying power of six-hour lip gloss and how wrinkle-free fabrics are developed. The teens also took a tour of a local fashion warehouse to experience first-hand the use of technology in the fashion industry.
Still other classes include Mash Up, NetZero Architecture, ChemLab Fundamentals, and Quadrotor Flight Controller, as well as video and music editing opportunities.
Through HiTech, students learn the critical skill sets needed for 21st century careers. The initiative capitalizes on Howard County’s advantage as home to a number of major STEM-oriented employers and higher education institutions. Many of these entities provide leadership and guidance as partners and members of the HiTech Board of Advisers, including the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Mindgrub Technologies, Northrop Grumman, University of Maryland’s School of Engineering, the Maryland State Department of Education, Howard County Public School System, Howard Community College, and UMBC’s Technology Center.
The results? Attendance since the popular initiative’s launch has reached nearly 4,000, with classes filled to capacity within hours of enrollment opening.
In 2013, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) named HCLS a “Top Innovator” for HiTech. ULC President and CEO Susan Benton remarked, “HCLS staff are commended for setting the pace for innovation in the field.”
We are proud to leverage the area’s best technology and teaching methodology to deliver a top-quality STEM education experience system-wide that students clearly enjoy. And we can’t wait to re-open our Savage Branch to unveil the HiTech headquarters!
About the Author
Valerie J. Gross served as President & CEO of Howard County Library System since 2001. She takes pride in HCLS’ 2013 Library of the Year award for its educational mission and unparalleled curriculum. Honored by the Baltimore Sun as one of 50 Women to Watch in 2013, Gross is author of Transforming Our Image, Building Our Brand: The Education Advantage.