Making space for creativity
Chris Guido, business development manager (Philadelphia)
When I first started thinking about RSM’s Pursue Your Passion program, my thoughts immediately went to supporting my local elementary school in the Philadelphia public school district. As a product of the school district, and coming from a very civic-minded family – my father was a firefighter and my mother was a nurse – I was always thought how important it is to give back to the community that supports you in so many ways. I didn’t know how I would help, but I knew there was a need. Various typical thoughts came to mind: playground equipment, classroom supplies, computers, etc., but I wanted to do something even more impactful – something that would have long-lasting impact on the children who attend Hackett Elementary.
I began by meeting for coffee with the principal, Todd Kimmel, and a member of the Friends of Hackett neighborhood group, Micah Hansen. They introduced the prospect of a “Maker’s Space” or STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) lab. It wasn’t a term I was immediately familiar with, but as soon as they described it to me, it resonated. I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, tinkering and understanding how things work. I was sold.
After my submission was selected, I was suddenly posed with that uncertainty of where to begin. Do I just start buying materials? What exactly do they need? What space to do they have available?
Conveniently enough there was an upcoming seminar that I and two of the teachers leading the charge were able to attend. This gave me a lot of insight into what goes into making a successful Maker’s Space, and allowed me to get a better understanding of the teachers’ vision. We took this a step further and visited another school in the district, which has well-run space to understand what the biggest needs were there, what pitfalls to avoid, how to get buy-in and so on.
Feeling well-equipped with knowledge at this point, I had a pretty solid game plan. We had identified our space at the school; the next step was going through all of the existing materials the school had in their science closet to determine what we might be able to use. I spent a day sorting and breaking down existing science kits for the raw materials. After tackling it for one day and realizing I had made such a small dent, I was a bit overwhelmed. As luck would have it, RSM’s Volunteer Day was approaching, and I was contacted about whether I needed any help at the school. I was able to get about 20 volunteers to help break down, sort and transport all of the materials (while helping with a few other tasks at the school). To have a whole group of individuals support me in this endeavor was beyond meaningful to me.
Now it was really time to get down to work (and the fun part). I began ordering 3D printers, K’nex sets, robots, books, new computers, and new rugs, chairs and tables, but the one thing I realized that was going to be critical was storage. Keeping all of these materials and gadgets organized and easy-to-access for both teachers and students was paramount. As furniture and other items were put in to place, it really did start to become a place to create.
Now, there was a byproduct of this whole experience I wasn’t expecting. I knew I wanted to give back to the schools that gave me so much and that shaped me. I always envisioned giving back my time and maybe something material. I wasn’t expecting anything in return. What I encountered during this experience was so much more meaningful, though. There were a few things in particular that were memorable to me:
- Working by myself in the storage closet, listening to the teacher sing and interact with her students. How dedicated she was. How passionate she was.
- The lines of kids walking by as I put the furniture together, and craning their necks in anticipation. (There was buzz around this project in the school.)
- Conversations with the three young students who volunteered to sort some of the materials, and their telling me what they were excited to make in the space (slime and volcanoes, of course).
- Working with the art teacher and really connecting with him, and our discussions about how the arts and the sciences intertwine so much, and the versatility at which a problem can be tackled. And how we all think and see differently.
- My wife coming home and telling me that her hair stylist’s daughter was “over the moon” after creating something out of the 3D printer for the first time.
All of these moments were so incredibly meaningful and will remain with me forever. It reminds me that helping our young people doesn’t need to end here, and that there will continue to be opportunities to dedicate time, energy and passion to helping our public schools and, by extension, our communities.