A non-profit that encourages minority students to pursue education, training and work in STEM fields is poised to build a $6.5 million learning lab in downtown Wilmington.
The 17,000-square-foot lab will provide spaces for students to learn through hands-on experiential learning. The building also will feature a career center where adult learners will be able to develop skills and seek employment opportunities.
FAME Inc., short for the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering, received $2.8 million through the 2022 state Bond Bill’s community redevelopment fund to build the lab.
The 2022 Bond Bill included $70 million for one-time allocations that legislators earmark for nonprofits, schools and community agencies in their districts. The bill set a record with $1.3 billion of projects, because the state has a projected $1 billion-plus surplus to support them.
FAME Inc. organizers say the new lab will inspire career confidence through academics, workforce development and innovation.
With about 60% of the project cost covered by this grant and others, the organization is moving into the public phase of its capital campaign and hopes to start phase one of construction by late fall.
The project involves retrofitting the FAME headquarters at 2005 Baynard Ave. in Wilmington, which formerly served as the home of Children and Families First.
FAME was established in 1976 as one of the nation’s first non-profit STEM organizations. STEM refers to study and industry in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
According to FAME, the organization “strives to disrupt intergenerational poverty and provide a lifelong continuum of programmatic services for underserved individuals living in Delaware, with a specific focus on Wilmington and greater New Castle County.”
Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, submitted FAME’s request for bond bill funding.
“Diversity in STEM is not a luxury. It is a necessity to effectively craft solutions and products for a diverse world,” she said Tuesday. “FAME’s new Learning Lab, right in the heart of the First Senate District, will offer youth in the Wilmington area a state-of-the-art facility to explore their passions, deepen their knowledge and find pathways to opportunities in STEM.”
McBride said the organization’s impact already is clear with 98% of FAME students going on to college and the vast majority of recent graduates entering STEM majors.
“FAME has already empowered generations of youth to pursue their dreams and this new facility will only enhance their ability to do so,” she said. “I am so proud to have worked with Rep. (Nnamdi) Chukwuocha and the Bond Committee to make this investment in the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, educators and dreamers.”
Such services are necessary, according to FAME, because “Wilmington lacks a comprehensive and coordinated plan to address poverty, education and unemployment, particularly in underserved communities.”
The organization provides educational programs throughout the year, including weekend and summer classes. It also offers a four-week program for 11th and 12th graders to live on campus at the University of Delaware while taking college calculus, physics, chemistry and engineering courses.
FAME also acts as a direct link to industry leaders, with students receiving internships, scholarships and opportunities to interact with top executives, engineers, scientists and technology specialists at Fortune 500 organizations. Many are themselves alumni of FAME.
CEO Don Baker, is a FAME alumnus, said the new lab will allow students to earn the experience and knowledge necessary to join the labor force. For many, he said, it could change the trajectory of their families’ futures.
“Our goal is to make sure that we have the resources necessary to make this a world-class space, but also to present individuals in this city and this state with world-class options,” Baker said.
A FAME Inc. document outlining plans for the learning center notes that Wilmington “residents disproportionately experience financial, social and racial inequities and poverty (25%), graduation (72%), and unemployment (5.2%). Rates are increasingly magnified when a racial lens is used. Black and brown residents face higher percentages of poverty (black: 26.9% and Latino: 25.3%) and are 66% more likely to live below the poverty line.”
While the organization specifically focuses programming toward girls and minority communities, FAME supports all Delawareans, he said.
“We believe that all talented Delawareans deserve opportunities and that’s what we’re focused on providing as we move forward.”
The first floor of FAME headquarters will become the Career Confidence Center and include reception areas as well as career and workforce development programs.
The second floor will house the administrative suite of offices, while providing conference and workspace for industry partners in financial services, engineering and information technology.
The third floor renovations will focus on the development of the learning labs, which will include a series of laboratory spaces focused on computer programming, biotechnology, media, food sciences, chemical engineering and pharmacology. The lab will also feature a virtual reality exhibit and a rotating lab with other science-based studies and digital technologies.
Renovations will place an emphasis on sustainability by reducing the building’s environmental impact.
The building’s exterior will include operable louvers on the glass wall facing south to control daylight streaming and to block solar gain in the summer, while simultaneously taking advantage of passive solar gains in the winter, the report said.
The building also will have a green ‘living wall’ as part of the solid brick wall facing Baynard Boulevard. The green wall will protect masonry, reduce heat gain in the building and remove toxins from the air.
Solar panels will be placed on the roof, adjacent to a roof-top deck and garden area. Cisterns will collect rainwater that will be used as gray water for multiple purposes.
To donate to the project, go to famedelaware.org/donate or email Grace Grennwich at [email protected].
Contact Charlie at [email protected]
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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