Richland High School students may have access to new science, technology, engineering and mathematics equipment and lessons by Christmas, Principal Timothy Regan said.
“I’m excited for our kids and our staff,” he said. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity for our region.”
These improvements to the STEM labs at the school are part of a cost-free partnership the school board approved in May with the NextFab Foundation.
NextFab is an organization dedicated to promotion and development of hardware makerspaces, known as “Fab Labs,” and was created in 2016 by philanthropist Evan Malone.
Joseph Katter, executive director of the foundation and Johnstown native, reached out to Regan last year to inquire about connecting the agency with the school.
An agreement was made and the two have been working on the next step – an evaluation.
“We’re very impressed with the advanced status of their program,” Katter said.
He added that Richland has a “great forward-thinking principal and superintendent who saw the importance of this and relevance of this and moved on it.”
As the NextFab Foundation developed its humanitarian efforts throughout the years, the executive director suggested its attention be turned toward legacy manufacturing areas such as Johnstown to provide assistance.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, officials discussed partnerships with several area schools, but Richland stood out because of its extensive STEM program.
“We felt that this was a very, very good fit for us,” Katter said.
The idea is to train juniors and seniors in advanced STEM and human-centered design disciplines.
Katter said through this pilot program, they want to get graduates placed with local businesses, such as the Concurrent Technologies Corporation.
“Ed Sheehan (company president and CEO) and CTC have advised us on project development and will hopefully be involved in mentoring and training components going forward,” he said.
Richland and NextFab have made it through the “red tape” portion of their work, Regan said, and are now determining what each has, wants and needs to move forward.
Some of the progress has been delayed due to COVID-19 but the partnership is now moving forward smoothly, Regan added.
As work continues, the high school won’t just get new equipment, from a sewing machine to a laser cutter, but the STEM curriculum will also receive an overhaul.
Richland officials will also consult with experts at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and Penn State University.
Regan said he wants to fine-tune the existing program and make it the best it can be.
“This is trying to stay on the cutting edge of what we’ve already created here,” he said.
Ultimately, the principal’s goal with these partnerships is to provide students with the skills needed to get internships with local companies in order to keep the school’s “best and brightest” in the area.
Regan said he wants to create a pipeline to businesses such as those located on JARI Drive, while also supporting those who want to pursue higher education.
Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.