When Owen Willis welcomes fellow students into St. Vrain Valley Schools’ Mobile Innovation Lab, one of the first things he notices is their curiosity.
“They’re really just surprised with everything they’re presented with, and excited to engage with the activities that we have,” Willis said. “The kids always seem to love it, and they’re super engaged with what we’re doing.”
Willis is among more than two dozen St. Vrain students who help — on a rotating schedule — to facilitate the mobile lab, which teaches young people about robotics, aeronautics, design, coding, virtual reality and other STEM fields.
The lab is traveling to Alamosa County this week in an effort to inspire rural students at a career fair for 14 school districts in southern Colorado.
“I feel like it’s important because a lot of school districts don’t have all of the technology resources that St. Vrain Valley Schools has, and so some students might not realize the opportunities that are really out there,” Willis explained.
The lab, which is fully funded by the district’s industry and nonprofit partners, is run by the district’s Innovation Center. The bus has recently visited career fairs in Fort Collins and Erie.
The lab features interactive stations that are both informative and creative, Willis said.
“We have this station with iPads and Apple Pencils, and we call it the animation station … the kids sit down with an iPad and engage in an app by Apple called ‘Keynote,’” he explained. “They’re able to create a drawing on the iPad and then create an animation.”
Another popular station allows students to create their own podcast with professional equipment.
In addition to STEM skills, students learn how to solve problems, Willis said.
“For some of the activities, it really helps them learn troubleshooting, because we all know with technology that things can go wrong, and it’s important to troubleshoot to help make it work again as expected,” he explained.
Students also learn how to collaborate with each other, he said.
“In some of the activities, the students are working in groups, so it really helps them work on their communication and teamwork skills.”
One of the most important aspects of the lab is students helping students, said Colin Rickman, director of communications and engagement for the district.
“Owen and our Mobile Lab project team is the heart of the work we do,” Rickman said. “They are building skills and connecting with students from across our district and beyond. It's a powerful moment for our younger students across St. Vrain to see older students that are hard-working, articulate and brilliant helping to inspire curiosity in STEM fields.”
The Mobile Innovation Lab student facilitators are also learning important life skills when they interact with participants, he said.
“I'm so proud of the work they are doing and I know it is another piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping them prepare for the next step,” Rickman said. “Students like Owen are leaders and doing incredible work by the time they are graduating high school with a wealth of real experiences, imagine what they'll be doing later in life!”