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Inauguration of the STEAM Innovation Center at IC

Joelle Kahwaji

US ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea, was obviously captivated with IC's new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Innovation Center as she toured the various rooms of Sage Hall and looked at the state-of-the-art equipment during the inauguration ceremony on November 12, 2021.

"I am thrilled to be here and to help you inaugurate these amazing labs," she said. "I had no idea how impressive this was going to be.”

 

The labs were funded by USAID’s (United States Agency for International Development) American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) initiative, which assists overseas schools, libraries, and hospital centers to highlight American ideas and practices.

As Director of ERC (Educational Resources Center) and Director of Technology, Dr. Mahmud Shihab led the tour around the center explaining the functions of each room including  Coding, Electronics and Digital Arts Lab; 3-D Design and Printing Lab, Makerspace, Laser Cutting, Drone Lab, LEGO Robotics Lab, Vex Robotics Lab, Audio Studio, and Film Studio. He explained that IC follows the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process by building global collaborators, digital citizens, creative communicators, knowledge constructors, computational thinkers and innovative designers.

The inauguration of the center was a poignant moment for IC as the actual work in Sage Hall began two years ago and would have been ready for students' use.  Unfortunately, the center remained empty and unused as the October 2019 events and the pandemic kept students at home.

And then came the August 4 explosion, which caused considerable damage to the labs. Work had to start once again.  After seeing pictures of the damage, Shea expressed her admiration for IC in keeping its high standard of education despite the economic collapse, the pandemic, and the blast.

"We congratulate IC for continuing to educate students in these challenging times," she continued. "We applaud your efforts."

She also commended the efforts of IC to invite public and underprivileged schools in the area to use the STEAM center.

Taking the stand, IC President Joel Peinado probed into the skills, qualities, and knowledge that IC should impart to prepare its students for productive and successful lives.

 "Students need to be flexible and adaptable; therefore, they need to have empathy so that they understand issues and understand other people's perspectives," he said. "They need to be creative, inquirers, team workers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. Finally, they need to have highly developed emotional intelligence. And these are exactly the skills that IC will nurture in its new STEAM Innovation Center for IC's students and students from schools with which IC will partner."

Student Christian Tawil, a scholar student from the Ali Ghandour Center for Leadership, Diversity and Civic Engagement, also spoke, expressing his pleasure at knowing that the labs will be at the disposal of public school students.

Based on IC’s guiding statements, the STEAM center empowers students and guides them through an innovative learner-driven technology program. Ten state-of-the-art STEAM  labs in Ras Beirut and Ain Aar campuses serve middle and secondary school students.

STEAM, an interdisciplinary hands-on future-focused learning approach, is an essential component in guiding learners to develop personal qualities and skills leading to international-mindedness, intellectual curiosity, adaptability, effective communication, creative expression, compassion, community building, responsible citizens, and an appreciation for cultural diversity.

It develops their 'soft skills' (personal characteristics that allow us to interact well with others) by encouraging them to ask questions, interview experts, collaborate in teams, and present their work to an audience. It allows them to explore their creativity by giving them the opportunity to find solutions to problems that they may encounter in the real world.

The 'A' in STEAM stands for art. It sparks creativity, spatial awareness, observations, tones the different senses, adds beauty to any project, and expands students' growth. A STEAM program must include artistic expression as it is central to the creative mindset of the approach. In addition, multimedia projects such as filmmaking, digital design, and photography now require scientific and technological skills.

STEAM jobs are projected to continue growing at a very high rate. The need for creative problem-solving and innovative workers is at an all-time high. New graduates are expected to understand and function in a STEAM-driven environment. (To familiarize students with STEAM in their younger years, IC created 'makerspaces' - collaborative workspaces inside a school- and robotics and coding clubs in the Elementary School a few years ago).

IC educators have established a customized curriculum and allocated a well-trained group of teachers to implement the STEAM approach. Their main task is to design updated lessons as dictated by the ever-changing STEAM world. They will train and coordinate with other teachers to help "STEAM-ify" their lesson plans. The objective is to integrate STEAM components into all programs and at all levels at IC Ras Beirut and Ain Aar.

The two centers in both campuses are equipped with the latest digital equipment, including computers, robots, electronic devices, digital design and 3D printing tools, woodworking and metalworking equipment, in addition to creative and professional software curriculum resources. Each activity has an allocated workspace with seating, tables, and presentation equipment.

The goal is to encourage students to become active learners. They will learn to design and implement their visions and ideas and build and present their prototypes to their communities. Students are encouraged to question the world around them, identify the problems, and confidently find ways to approach and solve them.

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Written by Reem Haddad - Photos by Dory Khayat