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STEM Career Exploration Program Earns Kudos, $5,000 Check


An innovative new program of Kent Career Tech Center has $5,000 more in its budget.

Design Lab won a March 15 competition during the Governor’s Economic and Education Summit at the DeVos Place Convention Center downtown.

Design Lab was one of three programs in the Attracting Talent category. Other categories were Developing Talent and Retaining Talent.

Design Lab instructor Joe Phillips, left, receiving the award with Tech Center Principal John Kraus
Design Lab instructor Joe Phillips, left, receiving the award with Tech Center Principal John Kraus

The principal-instructor duo John Kraus and Joe Philips from the Tech Center presented, winning both their category and the entire competition, which included eight other competing schools and colleges. Presentations were judged solely based on audience votes.

Design Lab is a one-year career and technical education program created to introduce 10th-grade students to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), and the Tech Center, helping them explore related careers. The program, developed with help from area business leaders, attracts students who might not typically consider one of these high-demand fields by appealing to the inventor/tinkerer in a wide range of students.

The program integrates design thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. Projects in this first year have included developing and building a battery-powered phone charger that fits in a candy tin, designing and building a model car, inventing and 3D printing a custom solution to a real world problem of their choice.

“Many students have no idea ‘what they want to be when they grow up.’ We specialize in helping them answer that question,” said Tech Center Principal John Kraus. “Being selected by the MEDC and the Governor’s office is both an honor and affirmation of our work to broaden students’ awareness of high tech, high demand careers they may not have considered before. Programs like Design Lab help students explore and prepare for great careers located right here in West Michigan.”

Design Lab already is showing its success. Just halfway through its first year, Design Lab’s 38 students include half a dozen females, well above the average high-school STEM program enrollment. Thirty-seven of its students have already registered for further Tech Center programs, 80 percent of them STEM-related such as mechatronics, IT, HVAC and engineering.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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