Celebrating STEM/STEAM Day at PCC: Fostering Innovation and Skills
Photos and Story by James Hill
On Nov. 8, its STEM/STEAM Day and Portland Community College is highlighting its commitment to fostering innovation and skill development among its students and the wider community in this field.
Recognizing the value of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEM/STEAM), PCC has created an environment that promotes creativity and hands-on learning. Campuses are equipped with dedicated creative STEM centers that offer students and community members the opportunity to explore STEAM and STEM. These spaces provide access to an impressive array of equipment, including 3D printers, vinyl cutters, sewing machines, laser cutters, and much more.
Open lab hours are a key feature of these spaces, allowing anyone from the community to drop in and start creating. This inclusive approach encourages a culture of innovation and collaboration both inside and outside the classroom.
“These centers are especially important for providing opportunities for STEAM exploration and skill-development because we offer zero-cost, no-barrier access to a variety of equipment and workshops that many members of underserved populations and communities might not otherwise be able to afford,” said Michael Moss, who coordinates the Cascade Create Space. “We provide equipment and materials for free to students who are interested in learning transferable skills that correspond with a number of academic programs offered at PCC.”
Moss’ Create Space lab is a hub of creativity and innovation, offering a diverse range of experiences and opportunities for students and the community. From formal academic support to hands-on skills-focused workshops, the Create Space serves as a dedicated center for STEAM exploration and self-expression. Staff collaborate with instructors from various programs, including Art, Music and Sonic Arts, Multimedia, Business Administration, and Education, to support class projects and curricula. This collaborative approach ensures that students receive well-rounded support for their academic endeavors.
Moreover, the center extends its reach beyond the campus, offering events and workshops to external organizations, including the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) and iUrban Teen. These initiatives bring the benefits of STEM and STEAM education to the broader community. Examples of exciting projects born in the lab include Kendall Cottrell’s Creative Coding Capstone Sonic Summer project, where the local artist and lab assistant crafted programmable LED clouds for an installation at the Paragon Arts Gallery, creating a captivating interactive and sensory experience.
Columbia County STEM Expansion
Since its official opening in May 2023, the Fab Lab at the OMIC Training Center in Scappoose, led by coordinator Sarah Burns, has been a bustling place for both students and the community as well. The lab has organized numerous events that highlight its commitment to education and community engagement.
On Nov. 2, the Fab Lab took part in the St. Helens Dia De Los Muertos event at Buccini Hall where staff collaborated with children to build light-up Sugar Skull kits. These kits serve as an introductory lesson on creating electrical circuits using LEDs, batteries and conductive tape. The event drew more than 200 community members, offering them a chance to enjoy traditional Aztec dances, Mariachi music, delicious Mexican cuisine from local restaurants, and a deeper understanding of the culture and history of their neighbors.
On Oct. 6, the facility hosted the 2023 Manufacturing Day event. Hundreds of Oregon high school students visited the center to explore career opportunities in advanced manufacturing and the trades. Additionally, in partnership with the NW STEM Hub and OMIC, the Fab Lab has launched several First Lego Robotics League Challenge and Explore teams for Columbia County students, ranging from second to seventh grade. These teams use Legos to build and program robotic components, offering an interactive learning experience.
Looking ahead, the Fab Lab’s next major event is “Supporting Women in Manufacturing Day” on Dec. 1. This day will feature hands-on activities related to manufacturing processes and provide insights into women’s experiences in the industry.
As part of PCC’s westside maker space experience, the Rock Creek Campus’ STEAM Lab reopened in August of 2023 after being closed for several years because of the pandemic. Thanks to grants from Lam Research and the PCC Foundation, as well as Perkins grant funding, the lab was able to purchase new computers, Prusa 3-D printers, Nomad 3 CNC mills, soldering stations, sewing and serging machines, and more. Materials and equipment are free to use for students, including color printing. The first week of fall term, the space hosted a “Weeks of Welcome – Button Bash,” where students could come learn about the STEAM Lab’s offerings and create a custom button.
STEM Supports the Arts
Like at Cascade, the MakerLab at Sylvania is a hub for STEAM-related PCC programs, including Engineering, Theatre, and Computer Science, while also collaborating with external organizations like local middle and high school teachers for educational programs and technology access. Recently, it hosted professional development for elementary and middle school teachers, focusing on computer science, led by the Portland Metro STEM Partnership.
Coordinator Sean Rooney emphasized the creative use of technology, as a theatre costuming class employed 3-D printing, vacuum forming, and laser cutting to design props for the musical “Little Shop of Horrors.” He underlined the lab’s commitment to making the STEAM Center accessible to all PCC students, offering support and equipment to kickstart projects.
“It allows students to explore fields and equipment they are not familiar with and to go at a pace that works for them, while demystifying some of these STEM fields,” Rooney said of PCC’s network of STEM centers. “They come together, mentor each other, and share ideas, problems, solutions, that help lift all of their projects directly or indirectly. Students get exposure to STEM fields and processes from learning the machinery and technology in the STEAM centers, but the exposure is amplified by the creative community of students that take part in the space.”
For more information about a STEM Lab near you, visit https://www.pcc.edu/maker/