Volkert Center for Applied Design and Dream Lab opens at Gulf Shores High School

By Jessica Vaughn
Education Editor
Posted 3/22/22

GULF SHORES — "A student doesn't know what they can be excited about until they're exposed to it," said Kevin Corcoran, President, Gulf Shores Board of Education. He spoke those words during …

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Volkert Center for Applied Design and Dream Lab opens at Gulf Shores High School


GULF SHORES — "A student doesn't know what they can be excited about until they're exposed to it," said Kevin Corcoran, President, Gulf Shores Board of Education.
He spoke those words during the grand opening celebration for the Volkert Center for Applied Design and Dream Lab at Gulf Shores High School on Monday, March 7. The new space came to life through a partnership between the GSHS Engineering and Computer Science Academy and Applied Design College Preparatory Program and Volkert Engineering. Through a grant and the ongoing support from Volkert, who participated in the conception and renovation of the space, Gulf Shores High students have a place where they can construct their dreams and ideas into reality.
"We have a lot of fun in here," said Daniel Paul, Applied Design, Engineering and Computer Science Teacher, GSHS. "All of this started with a vision to help raise up engineers in this country. The United States imports so many engineers, and having come from an engineering background, trying to find people in the United States was very difficult.
"So, when we sat down around the table and we talked about what was needed in industry, one of the things we realized was we needed more diversity in engineering. More female engineers. More African American engineers," Paul said. "So, we wanted a program that would be very inclusive to help bring diverse candidates into the hiring pipeline, and I think that's what this program has set out to do."
Around the room during the grand opening, students demonstrated their personal projects, displaying all the things they were working on. Projects included a VR station with equipment purchased through a donation from Volkert, operated by Cookie Grover, Sophia Sobol and Claire Colvin; an app that teaches users sign language, developed by Kailyn Opperud, who won third place in the Governor's App Challenge; an interactive electronic toy design created on the Arduino microcontroller platform and coded in C++, created by Caleb Rawls; an NFL app designed by Sean Kirby; the Wall-E Project from Kevin Ellis; Python coding on drones and robots in the Dream Lab from Aaron Sears; a Capstone Project over drone mapping Laguna Cove shoreline from Austin Sparks and Mason Reffitt; and Amara Morales with the Applied Design College Preparatory Program.

"This is exactly what we hoped we could do when we started talking about city schools, that we could engage leaders in this community like the Volkert team to help us help our kids learn things that they wouldn't get otherwise," said Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft. "It's not a standard textbook or program, it's something out of the box. It's exactly what we hoped to accomplish."
The facilities house the Engineering and Computer Science Academy and the new Applied Design Academy, which is a rigorous College Preparatory Program created after discussions between the partner organizations.
During conversations on what both parties wanted to accomplish with the partnership, it was quickly realized that the Volkert team wanted to do more than just make monetary contributions. The team wanted to be involved with the creation of the Applied Design Academy, which will build a pipeline of pre-engineering students for top universities. They were also involved with the renovation of existing classroom and laboratory spaces and the creation of the Dream Lab.
"What we're here to do with this program is to inspire the future generation that our industry, our firm, our communities depend on, be coming down the pipe with new talent, new thinking and high aspirations," said Stan Winter, Volkert. "For our profession to continue, for our industry to continue, for our firm to be successful, we need the next generation of engineers, planners, environmental scientists, all of the above, and they need to be inspired to pursue those studies and those educational programs and professions in the science, technology, engineering, art and math fields."
Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin said that from the start, the Volkert team has voiced their desire to bring engineers into the school to teach the students about all aspects of engineering, from the technical standpoint as well as the importance of clear writing and speaking.
"We hope to continue doing work and presentations that will inspire the students," said Perry Hand, Volkert CEO. "We want to advance further into the engineering background, engineering knowledge and what engineers actually do. In the United States, from construction or design, water, sewer, drainage, all the stuff you take for granted, nothing happens without an engineer. And you have to be educated, you have to be inspired, it has to be your life's vision. The more industry you can get involved in our high schools, the better off we'll be. We need to have people bringing what they know to our students."