Shady Side Academy opens $2.9 million tech hub

Thursday, September 26, 2019 | 1:59 PM


The much-anticipated fabrication and robotics center at Shady Side Academy has opened its doors to students eager to problem-solve through hands-on learning.

The Glimcher Tech & Design Hub, a $2.9 million facility dedicated to innovation and technology, is housed in the lower level of Rowe and Memorial halls on the Senior School campus along Fox Chapel Road.

Construction kicked off in June 2018 and finished in time for a rolling start this school year. Spaces opened gradually over the first few weeks of the semester, said Jen Roupe, Shady Side Academy’s communications director.

“The physical transformation of the space is remarkable,” she said. “What was once a dimly lit basement housing a 1970s science lab and classrooms is now a bright and airy space with modern technology.”

Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with natural light.

With 12,000 square feet devoted to invention and creativity, high schoolers can split their time among three areas: the fabrication and robotics wing, the computer science wing and the SSA Café.

Fabrication and Robotics

The area is home to a wet lab, think tank and robotics arena, with cutting-edge equipment like a Tormach CNC mill, an Epilog laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, a garment printer, a table saw and four 3D printers.

The maker spaces are open to all students and will be the home of the school’s robotics and Science Olympiad teams.

Computer Science

The computer science department has relocated from Hunt Hall to the space, which includes a lounge, SMART boards and tables for collaborative work.

The curriculum includes electives like game design, app development and artificial intelligence. Large glass windows allow people to see what’s happening in the labs next door.

SSA Café

A popular gathering spot sandwiched between the two classroom wings, the cafe is open from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on school days for coffee, tea and snacks on-the-go.

Large glass windows allow students sitting in the cafe to see what’s happening in the robotics arena and fab lab.

Earlier this year, the school announced Jesse Robinson as director of the new facility.

He started this fall at SSA after serving at Greens Farms Academy, an independent school in Westport, Conn., as a computer science teacher since 2013. He designed Greens Farms’ technology curriculum, assisted in developing the STEAM program, established maker spaces and implemented a 1:1 Apple laptop program.

“SSA is investing in the development of creative problem-solvers, tinkerers and innovators,” Robinson said.

He is spearheading efforts to integrate the new facilities and project-based learning across all classes.

His faculty series, “Maker Mondays,” is under way. Other partnerships include helping in German class to make laser-cut Christmas pyramids.

“Learning by doing is so important,” he said. “You see levels of engagement from students go up as they start tinkering and making things, and there’s a bigger connection between the student and the work.”

Senior School Head Sophie Lau said the hope is that learning opportunities at the new space will build students’ capacity to take on real-world challenges and solve real-world problems.

Construction of the facility was done with a focus on sustainability, with features like LED lighting with occupancy sensors and water-saving plumbing fixtures.

The hub is the final part of a three-phase project to upgrade SSA’s science and technology facilities. The first leg was the renovation and expansion of the Junior and Middle School science labs in 2014-16, and the second phase was the construction of the Senior School’s McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation, which opened in 2018.