Its fall of 2012. I am a senior in high school, so I am not expecting to do anything too radical in the school year. “Keep your head down, do your work, get into college” that’s the plan, and darn it I’m sticking to it. But, before I can do any of that, as I am throwing a  frisbee outside during my wonderful free-block, I am stopped on the path by Josh Weisgrau. Now, I know Josh, that was my fifth year working with him in the theater, so when he says (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing here), “Drew, you should totally come to this thing STEAM, It’s awesome and you’d love it,” my ears piqued up and I followed him into Buck’s room. My senior year had just completely shifted gears.

When I walked in to that room, a group of seven other students were already there. We were prompted by Buck, Josh, and Colin (BC) to redesign the chairs in the science building. Long story short, we expanded our constraints and ended up both redesigning Buck’s room and planing out the ideal classroom of the future. That is the prime example of how a normal day in STEAM would work. We might go in to that room with an idea of what we wanted to start working on or continue to build upon, but we would walk out every day with crazy ideas that we could not have imagine 40-80 minutes before.

In the first few weeks of STEAM, the make up of the class was fluid. Students would be in and out, some dropped it because of scheduling conflicts while others, like me, picked it up out of the blue. Despite these personnel shifts, there were always eleven people involved, three teacher-mentors and eight students. The final group brought in so many different skills and views: people who write code, people who build things, people who write well, people who are artists, it goes on and on! I knew everybody in STEAM from prior interactions, but it was not until we were in Buck’s room together for awhile that I considered all of them my good friends. We bonded over dropping robots off the roof, making music out of staircases, and of course, STEAMnet.

STEAMnet, the crown jewel of the first year of STEAM, is unfinished as of this writing (Sorry Verizon, we’ll get there), but I think the app has already made some of its biggest contributions to STEAM. The majority of the second half of the year was primarily devoted to producing and polishing our ides and packaging them into a three minute video. Once it won the Verizon Innovative App competition, STEAMnet was a source of immense pride that bound us all together because we had all contributed to its success. It took everyone’s input to come up with an app that imitates the loose and decentralized environment of STEAM. Once the app had won, however, we did not stop working on it. We actually stepped it up to another level. I think the intensity of our work hit its peak during our trip to Florida to present our app at the Technology Students Association conference. When we were not directly involved in the events of the conference, we were in the zone. The hotel room I was in, along with Aqeel and Sam, became the hub for all things STEAMnet. With Yeezus blaring and computer screens glaring, some were building a version of the app for presentation to the public the next morning while others were working on figuring out the long-term future of the app. Those late nights, our “Hackathons,” were some of the best hours I have ever had. They brought me closer to everybody in STEAM and allowed me to realize just how cool all of this was. I mean, we were in Florida presenting an app idea we came up with that was decided by Verizon to be one of the best concepts in the country, that’s crazy awesome!

STEAM alumni prepare to present STEAMnet at the TSA Conference in Orlando.
Late night “Hackathon” as the team prepares to present STEAMnet at the TSA Conference in Orlando.

So I know this post is a bit disjointed, but that is how I remember my year of STEAM. I can point to a few specific days or weeks maybe, but most of it is all a blur of crazy ideating (I love that word). In short, my experience in STEAM changed the way I think, exposed me to some wild ideas, and maybe most importantly it made me some life long friends. Anybody thinking of starting something like STEAM should know that it takes a lot of work, patience, and motivation, but the rewards are worth all of that a hundred times over.

Drew demos STEAMnet for a representative from the MIT Media Lab. (photo by Margaret Roberts)
Drew demos STEAMnet for a representative from the MIT Media Lab. (photo by Margaret Roberts)
A Disjointed Account of Why STEAM is Awesome
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