Fenwick Launches Engineering and Innovation Laboratory

Facility represents the ‘stem’ of flowering course offerings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By Mark Vruno

Science Department Co-chair Mr. Dave Kleinhans (right) works with a student on a laptop computer in the new STEM-focused facility.

Fenwick High School has ushered in its 91st academic year with a new Engineering & Innovation Laboratory. At the Open House in late September, prospective students and their families had an opportunity to see the modular classroom (Room 57), which features 25 new drafting and programming laptop computers, six 3D printers and five interactive, “smart” monitors. These technology equipment upgrades are a major part of the more than $70,000 investment in the refurbished lab space.

“We are teaching in the lab to packed computer-science classes,” Science Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans reports. In an effort to prepare students for business and STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) degrees in college, he adds, many of these courses were co-developed with a University of Illinois, student-run consulting organization. At professional-development sessions in mid-September, faculty members received training on the three-dimensional (additive-manufacturing) printers. 

Principal Peter Groom adds, “The development of our Computer Science curriculum has been a collaborative effort. We put a lot of faith in our faculty, and they really ran with it. In some cases, our teachers took existing courses and tailored them to the 21st-century world,” Mr. Groom explains. “In other cases, we started brand new courses. The opening of the new lab is just the beginning of a facilities transformation that will allow our excellent CS/Physics faculty to maximize the student experience.”

Fenwick’s Engineering & Innovation Lab “is what software labs look like at some of the companies I still communicate with in the private sector,” notes Kleinhans, who started up three software firms over two decades before embarking on a career change to become a teacher. IBM (Cognos) acquired one of his companies, but Kleinhans insists that teaching and mentoring young people bring him far more satisfaction and joy “than any bonus check for selling a company or being a CEO.”

Mr. Don Nelson (center) joined the Fenwick faculty this year to help run the computer-science segments of the new lab.

Joining the Fenwick faculty for this school year is Donald Nelson, who is “taking over a lot of our CS [computer science] classes,” according to Kleinhans. “Principal Groom made a great, strategic new hire in Nelson,” Kleinhans believes. “Don is a 30-year business person/nuclear engineer who wants to be involved with students as a second career.” Nelson, who previously has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, holds a B.S. in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. in computer science engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Student input and involvement

“It was inspiring to watch Dave Kleinhans empower recent graduates and current Friars to be project managers for the new lab,” adds Math Teacher and alumnus Kevin Roche ’05.Kevin Brosnan ’20, Spencer Gallagher ’19 and Jack Vomacka ’18 [helped] make it all happen. They met with architects, researched the best equipment, presented to the Board and even were present for the painting and carpeting subcontractors to ensure the job got done. That was my favorite part of it all: those three gain valuable project-management experience thanks to Dave.

“The room itself is my second favorite part,” Mr. Roche continues. “It is an incredible, open space for hands-on and collaborative learning, which is what much of CS entails. This room before was almost dead space (though one of the largest classrooms in the building). Now it is used for nearly every period for multiple classes. It is a great spot that Fenwick students will benefit from for years to come. The few tens of thousands of dollars needed to upgrade the room and to get the equipment as it is now will pay back dividends.”

3D printers are part of the revamped room.

Math Dept. colleague Dave Setum, who teaches CAD courses, adds: “The new Innovation Lab is helping our students direct their education into areas they are passionate about. While we have taught STEAM-based ideas for years, the new lab allows our students to create objects of their own design,” Mr. Setum explains. “They have a lot of freedom to learn through creating and refining their ideas in a lab-based setting. Once the students see that first idea get developed into a physical object, their excitement skyrockets and they have that internal drive to create more. It is a great space for combining science with design and art. Plenty of kids who might not have developed traditional 2D art skills can work with the technology and create in a new and different way.”

Kleinhans concludes, “It really is an exceptional environment.” He encourages alumni to come back to campus and see it, adding that Phase II of his vision for Fenwick is to build a “‘Garage Lab’ where we can teach robotics and advanced CS classes. I envision converting the old Math Lab that is adjacent to the faculty cafeteria to a ‘Robotics Garage.’”

Fenwick offers a full spectrum of college-prep mathematics and sciences courses, including five in Computer Science:

  1. Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  2. Computer Skills for Business
  3. Introduction to Computer Science
  4. AP Computer Science
  5. Data Structures and Algorithms

Details are available in the Course Selection Guide for 2019-20:

A 3D-printed model from the new Fenwick lab.


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