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Gov. Evers, WEDC Announce 18 Wisconsin School Districts Awarded Investments to Support STEAM Skills and Learning

April 30, 2024
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Image of Governor Tony Evers announcing 2024 “fab lab” grants.

Fab lab awards to support high-tech, hands-on learning opportunities in schools

MUSKEGO — Gov. Tony Evers, together with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes, today announced that the Muskego-Norway School District and 17 other school districts will receive more than $493,000 in “fab lab” grants to train students in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) skills and prepare them for careers using advanced technologies.

“Wisconsin has always been a state of makers, growers, and thinkers, and we know that the key to building upon that proud tradition is providing the skills and training our kids need to be successful in the 21st Century,” said Gov. Evers. “We’re working to create spaces with new learning opportunities for students to thrive and excel, including fab labs, where students have the most advanced equipment for hands-on learning in some of our state’s most in-demand fields. These grants will go a long way toward helping build the 21st-century workforce we need for a 21st-century economy.”

A fab lab, short for fabrication laboratory, is a high-technology workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control (CNC) routers, and plasma cutters. Through its Fab Labs Grant Program, WEDC is supporting the purchase of fab lab equipment for instructional and educational purposes for K-12 students across the state.

Since the program’s inception in 2016, WEDC has awarded 211 grants totaling more than $5 million to 125 school districts across the state. Countless fab lab students have benefited from career and technical education (CTE), which has evolved with a STEAM emphasis.

“The earlier kids experience the joy of learning and having fun with their classmates as they explore these new technologies, the more engaged they will be as they advance in school and the more open they will be to careers in STEAM fields,” said WEDC Secretary Hughes.

Image of Gov Evers presenting Andrew Bavlnka with Fab Labs certificate.

Gov. Tony Evers presenting Andrew Bavlnka, Director of secondary student learning at Muskego High School, with Fab Labs certificate.

The Muskego-Norway School District is among the first-time recipients this year. With a $24,700 grant, the district will be able to equip a new lab at Muskego High School, which is now under construction. The STEAM and Health Science addition, to be completed before school begins in the fall, is part of a $44.6 million referendum voters approved two years ago.

Another first-time recipient is the Mosinee School District, which was awarded a $25,000 grant for a fab lab in its elementary school. While all grade levels are eligible, nearly 80 percent of the fab lab grants WEDC has awarded have been for middle and high school fab labs.

A decade ago, Muskego High School’s career and technical education courses, primarily computer classes, were housed in the high school basement. In time, CTE claimed more space, driven by increasing student interest and the demands of parents, businesses, and industry for more hands-on learning on the latest equipment. In the fall, the CTE programs will have a new home in the STEAM and Health Science addition.

Two veteran educators—James Michlig, college, career, and experimental learning coordinator, and Andrew Bavlnka, director of secondary student learning, who will be the new high school principal in the fall—have watched the programs grow and are awed by the opportunities students will have.

In the beginning, the school’s STEAM program “started in the basement, and now we’re putting it in one of the most visible spaces in our district,” said Bavlnka. “A shop class in 1985 is not what a shop class has to look like today and beyond. These are clean production facilities. Kids are working on computers in very professional environments, and they’re making things. We’re going to see kids who maybe didn’t know what tech ed has for them, a chance to shine in tech ed.”

In addition to Muskego-Norway School District and Mosinee School District, other grant recipients include:

  • Butternut School District – $22,000
  • Deerfield Community School District – $25,000
  • DeForest Area School District – $25,000
  • Racine Unified School District – $25,000
  • Tri County Area School District, Plainfield – $25,000
  • CESA 3 (Consortium) – Fennimore – $47,396
  • Fall River School District – $25,000
  • Hayward Community School District – $25,000
  • School District of Nekoosa – $25,000
  • New Lisbon School District – $25,000
  • Random Lake School District – $24,300
  • St. Croix Central School District – $25,000
  • Washington Island School District – $25,000
  • Waunakee Community School District – $25,000
  • Weyauwega-Fremont School District – $25,000
  • Whitehall School District (Consortium) – $50,000

The Muskego-Norway, Mosinee, Butternut, Deerfield Community, DeForest Area, Racine Unified, and Tri County Area School Districts were all first time awardees. To receive a grant, districts must provide matching funds equal to half of the award. As a result, the schools and the state this year will invest at least $750,000 in STEAM education in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin.

In addition to the grants, WEDC has developed a fab lab resource page for its website that provides districts with information on how to set up and equip a fab lab, how to implement best practices to ensure a successful fab lab, and more. Content for the page was provided by the University of Wisconsin-Stout and Fox Valley Technical College.

For more information on the state’s fab labs, including resources for teachers, visit wedc.org/fablabs or follow #WIFabLab on Twitter.

Original press release from Gov. Evers office is available here.

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