Heart of STEM Education Uncovered during Field Trip

A recently completed building by Gilbane Building Company—one of the largest construction and development firms in the industry—is unlike any other in the Commonwealth. The interior reveals tall ceiling heights to capture maximum daylight, suspended balconies overlook an atrium on the ground floor, glass walls outline rooms so everything is on display, and skylights flood natural light throughout the open space. This isn’t a Boston skyrise though—it’s a new state-of-the-art Boston Public School designed and built for 21st century student STEM education.

The new Dearborn STEM Academy in Dudley Square, Boston, will open its doors to 6-12th grade students in the Fall of 2018. It’s an open air working environment that’s been completely designed around the principles of STEM education.

“There are a number of different design elements at the school that let kids to see the way the building was built and the way that it lives and breathes,” says Derek Ullman, Project Manager at Gilbane. This includes transparent ceilings so students can see the ductwork, piping, and electrical features that allow the building to function. Student can see right away that their school isn’t just a brick and mortar building. “They’re going to be able to use the actual space as part of their daily curriculum.”

Community Involvement

In March, Derek and five of his colleagues who worked on the Dearborn STEM Academy attended United Way’s STEM Leadership Breakfast. They learned about the BoSTEM programa collaborative initiative with Boston Public Schools, and Boston After School and Beyond to increase out-of-school time STEM education for Boston middle school students.

Derek says that one of Gilbane’s mottos is Building More than Buildings, and this means getting involved in the community in many different ways. “We’re proud of what we do and we’re interested in sharing our knowledge.”

He says that there’s a big  gap in the STEM industry right now. Gilbane realizes that and wants to stay involved by pushing STEM principles into the education sector.”

“We got excited about everything that we heard that morning at the breakfast,” says Derek. “It definitely gave some life to what we wanted to do. And what would be better than bringing kids into the Dearborn school and give them an idea about the team collaboration that’s involved in putting together a building?”

Real World Experience

Part of the BoSTEM mission is to expose Boston middle school students to companies in the STEM industry. Paulina Murton, Senior Director of Middle School Programs at Breakthrough Greater Boston in Cambridge, is from one of the United Way agencies that facilitates these experiences.

Working with youth, starting in 6th grade, Breakthrough Greater Boston offers kids academic opportunities during the school year and summer months to not only strengthen their academic skills, but also to prepare them for college and beyond.

Paulina says that the recent partnership with BoSTEM gives kids the opportunity to experience real world learning. “One of the reasons we like to expose kids to different career paths is because we’re hoping that it’ll spark something in them, which they can follow through in high school and college and then potentially as a career. Many of our students will be the first in their families to graduate from college so it’s less likely that they have a family member who ’s an engineer or has a doctorate in science and I think that exposure is really important for a student to make sure they’re aware of careers that they may not have even considered before.”

Dearborn STEM Academy Field Trip

Gilbane and Breakthrough Greater Boston connected through the BoSTEM program and set up a field trip for twelve middle school students to visit the Dearborn STEM Academy.

“It was a great day,” says Paulina. “When we arrived we broke up the kids up into two groups for hands-on learning activities with the engineers and project managers from Gilbane. One group was building marshmallow towers and learning the basics of construction and design, and the other group was mixing concrete and thinking about how the different consistencies can impact a building structure.”

One of the Gilbane programmers showed the kids a 3D computer generated model of the building and they got to see that there’s so much more to construction than hammer, nails, and wood.

The kids were engaged throughout the field trip. During a Q&A session, a student asked one of the engineers, “How did you decide to do this?” The engineer explained how he went to Wentworth, but it wasn’t his major that led him to the professioninstead it was a series of experiences he had at different summer internships that led him to his current job.

And the kids weren’t the only ones who benefited from the Dearborn field trip. “There was a level of excitement that day,” says Derek. “We felt that we were able to give these kids something to think about as they move forward in the future into potential STEM vocations and careers and possibly shape their future.”

In fact, Paulina recounts one of her students talking about the experience saying, “I’d always planned on being a marine biologist, but after being here today it was so exciting to see what it could be like to be an engineer. If the marine biology thing doesn’t work out for me, maybe I’ll end up being an engineer!”

About Gilbane Building Company

Gilbane Building Company is a family-owned construction and facilities-management firm. Recognized as the top K-12 educational builder by Design+Construction Magazine, Gilbane and its employees strive to educate and engage students in their educational construction projects. Gilbane regularly partners with school leadership and organizations like United Way to help students experience real-world applications of STEM and business concepts.

Gilbane Building Company is headquartered in Providence and has a global team of more than 2,800 staff and construction workers. Gilbane and its employees work to give back to community organizations and educational institutions in the cities where they live and work.