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A committed partner + a talented teacher and studio designer + students passionate about STEM: these ingredients come together in Building 21 Allentown’s newest studio—Engineering Design.

This spring, Building 21 Allentown and Olympus Corporation of the Americas (Center Valley) partnered to launch a new engineering and design studio centered on sustainable design, STEM career exposure, and 1:1 mentorship.

Members of Olympus’ Emerging Professionals CAN (Colleague Affinity Network) were searching for an alternative, Covid-safe way to volunteer and mentor young people interested in STEM. Communities in Schools, a partner to both Building 21 and Olympus, connected Olympus to Kristyn Senneca (B21 Partnership Coordinator) and Melissa Routson (B21 teacher and studio designer). (Read more about their connection from CIS here.)

This team collaborated to design an engineering studio that provides junior and senior students with 1:1 mentors, STEM and business career exposure, and the opportunity to design and pitch a solution to promote sustainability in their community.

The studio uses the sustainable development goals (SDG) in the United Nations Global Compact as an anchor.

Miss Routson then challenged her students to design and manufacture something to make the world a better place. They focused on the engineering design process while designing their product and based their product on one of the 17 SDGs of their choice. Additionally, the studio is designed for the students to work on their Building 21 NextGen Essentials. Students will collaborate in teams and present their work twice.

Olympus mentors and partners support these studio outcomes through both 1:1 mentorship and timely engineering and business development presentations led by Olympus experts.

Initially, the mentors reviewed the SDGs with their students and helped brainstorm product or service designs to advance their chosen SDG. Mentors also provided feedback at each milestone. The students look forward to working with their mentors, not only for their help but also to learn more about their personal stories and career experiences.

NextGen Essentials


NGE.1 Project Quality:

I can plan, create, and implement a project in the world that has a positive impact on an authentic audience.

NGE.2 Presentation:

I can give purposeful and effective presentations in formal settings, making strategic and appropriate decisions about content, language use, and style based on the audience, venue, and topic.

NGE.3 Collaboration:

I can work effectively with diverse teams to create high quality products.

NGE.4 Written Communication in the Workplace:

I can effectively use a variety of formats for written communication in the workplace (e.g. email, memo, executive summary, business plan, technical report, press release, white paper, guides, handbooks, directions, agendas, meeting minutes, blogs (sharing/reflection), reviews, discussion boards/forum, etc.).

Olympus experts developed and delivered presentations in manufacturing and supply chain management; marketing and social media; sales; data and analytics; and community affairs that were scheduled throughout the spring to support the students’ design process.

The students have been receptive to working with their mentors. Miss Routson notes: “There are great conversations happening during each project meeting. The students enjoy talking with an adult from outside the school community, who provides not only expertise but an outside perspective.”

Olympus mentors present on Olympus’ social impact and approach to project management.

Their first course milestone was a “My Big Why” presentation.

This presentation summarized their research and plan for a final product. In this “My Big Why” presentation, students presented the goal they researched and explained the significance to them personally and the significance to the SDGs.

Student ideas included developing a portable fire extinguisher that could prevent forest fires and promoted through social media (SDG #15). Another team of students focused on Quality Education (SDG #4) and designed a building plan for an ideal school. Other ideas focused on Life Below Water (SDG #14) to develop a website and pamphlet of endangered species of fish and sea life for fishers.

For their culminating presentation, the students will present “Shark Tank style,” pitching their designs for investors in June. Stay tuned for the results!

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