Full STEAM Ahead at Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center

Part of what makes the mix of urban and rural communities scattered throughout Herkimer and Oneida counties particularly interesting is the juxtaposition of tradition and technology, access and inclusion, and pockets of creativity in unusual places.

In Boonville, a rural community in northern Oneida County, the Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center is providing residents with much-needed opportunities for artistic, intellectual and social involvement.

As a rural community center, the organization offers a variety of workshops, events, art exhibits and performances to the public, creating and developing programs that help promote the needs of the community—especially the needs of its children.

The center, also known as the Pratt House, is a chartered museum and one of four buildings within the town that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the charming, red brick 19th century historic building is a “makerspace.”

The building’s interior is virtually as it was a century ago, making it even more surprising to uncover an array of advanced technology—circuit systems, robotic gears and drones—on the inside.

Created to engage local youth through hands-on activities that build upon fundamental skills while also helping them understand basic technology processes, the MyTechSpace Fab Lab makerspace program provides opportunities to develop creative skills, build self-esteem and stimulate imagination through innovation.

Learning through innovation in an open-ended way is a concept not frequently taught in school or at home. Like many rural communities, there is a lack of opportunities for children to participate in activities that promote 21st-century life skills outside the school setting.

Through the MyTechSpace Fab Lab, local children engage in activities that help stimulate curiosity while developing their knowledge of different STEAM and music processes as they work together to complete real-life tasks through fun projects.

Qualified instructors with a passion for STEAM help fill the developmental gap for students who may have an interest in technology but lack the resources to participate and learn about it.

“Here at Dodge Pratt we have a MyTechSpace lab and makerspace program, which are designed to help young kids get a jumpstart on the technology they’ll be using in their career, such as drones,” says Alex Jackson, an intern at Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center. “There’s a lot of variety and it’s based around what they’ll use in their education and career.”

Makerspace type labs encourage students to learn by creating and interacting with physical and virtual tools that challenge them to solve complex problems. This self-directed style of education prepares young people for real-world challenges, stimulates curiosity by solving “what, when, why and how” questions, and is easily integrated into STEAM programs.

Recognizing the importance of programs that emphasize technical skills, especially in rural communities, Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center’s MyTechSpace lab and makerspace programs received support from two donor-advised funds of The Community Foundation—the Keller Family Fund and the Mele Family Fund. In addition, The Community Foundation has awarded nearly $45,000 throughout the years to support youth programs, building upgrades and technology advancements at the community center.

Since the new programs were implemented, the center has hosted robotics challenges, community demonstration events, STEAM workshops and now offers after-school enrichment and summer learning programs.

Designed to intrigue young minds and instill solid core values, makerspace programming is helping advance the center’s mission to develop in others a lifelong desire to learn.