By Lorna Gutierrez

A LEGO robotics kit. Check. An interactive projector. Check. Supercomputers complete with CAD programs. Check.

All these, as well as 3D printers, do-it-yourself electrical projects and tablets loaded with simulators, make up the beginning inventory of the new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) facility located at the E.A. Tutt Boys & Girls Club at 1455 Chelton Road in Colorado Springs.

The new “Center of Innovation” is a collaboration between Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Raytheon, which has a local presence and specializes in defense, civil government and cybersecurity solutions. Twenty-two Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide will benefit from the collaboration.

Thanks to a multi-year, $5 million commitment by Raytheon (to be distributed to selected clubs), children now have increased exposure to one of the fastest-growing employment fields in the nation. The company has specifically targeted military communities in the U.S. (and one in Germany).

The Colorado Springs location, recipient of about $17,000 of that money thus far, is the ninth STEM facility that has opened out of the 22 designated sites.

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An art room was remodeled to fit the needs of the project, and was met with great enthusiasm by the children during its April 27 opening ceremony.

“I think it looks really exciting and it’s really helpful for our club,” said Jenailys Maestre, a youth member of the club. “We’re going to be able to use it a lot.”

The new STEM opportunities will be added to the list of services the club already offers, including homework assistance, athletics and self-esteem-enriching services.

Youth of the Year nominee Dave Robinson found a respite from bullying at a Boys & Girls Club.

“It’s the one place where I could walk with my head held high,” he said during his speech at the STEM center’s opening. Many others also find a home in the club, which has locations around the country. Many attended the grand opening of the new center.

“I often speak to our local educators about the need to prepare students for success in the growing fields of science, technology and engineering,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said. “With access to advanced technologies like 3D printers, robotics and other gadgets … this center will expose kids to all this technology. … It’s no secret that STEM-based jobs are in high demand across the nation and no more so than right here in Colorado Springs.”

He stated that the more than $1.5 billion in health care infrastructure that is set to come out of the ground in Colorado Springs, in addition to the National Cybersecurity Center and other engineering facilities, gives prepared students the opportunity to grow careers in the region.

With many Raytheon engineers working within 5 miles of the facility, the club also provides numerous volunteer opportunities for employees.

“That’s probably the best part about it,” said Washington, D.C.-based Todd Probert, vice president of mission support and modernization at Raytheon. Volunteering helps benefit not just the children, but the engineers as well.

A dozen women engineers from Raytheon came to visit the center on Girl Day during Engineers Week in February, and helped to get the young girls at the club excited about engineering.

“Our employees are just clamoring to get engaged and do more,” said Probert.

Raytheon employees helped brainstorm the development of the new STEM room and came up with a few ideas for its design.

With military children experiencing frequent relocation, Probert hopes to give a little bit back to these children with the monetary commitment (and volunteer services) of his company.

“Getting kids excited about science, technology and math is what it’s all about,” he said, adding he hopes to one day add some of these children, as adults, to his staff.

Lt. Col. Greg McCulley of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station also recognized the benefits of early STEM exposure for children.

“What I do all day … is work with folks like Raytheon, to solve technical problems,” he said to the crowd at the unveiling. “Working underground comes with complicated problems that only STEM can solve. … That’s a long-term dividend that we’re talking about. We’re planting seeds here that are going to — once these guys graduate — that we’ll be able to cultivate.”

Having moved 13 times in 26 years, McCulley says organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club help absorb the impact. And now they have extra access to technology and learning opportunities.

“All of our problems are technical and complicated,” he said of the Air Force Station. “We have to have STEM to solve those problems.”

“We wanted a real big splash,” said James Sullivan, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region. The response from the kids at the unveiling says that they got the splash they were seeking.

Each club is personalized based on the particular center’s needs and the children’s wants.

“They made it their own,” said Probert.

And it will continue to grow as more money comes in.

In the meantime, members of the club, around 50-100 daily (of more than 400 members, total) can be found at the center learning and engaging with the various activities that are now available to them — such as DIY projects like using chemistry to make soda, or making their own crude light bulb. Regardless, they’ll be having experiences that weren’t available before.

“When you can bring together STEM activities and give back to the community and tie it to our core mission, which is service to our country and national security, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Probert.

The enthusiasm from the children seemed to echo that sentiment.