Christopher Stefani, Associate Director of Lawrence Technological University’s Detroit Center for Design and Technology sat with us to explore the steps the school is taking towards the transformative models in STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics— and the role they are playing in it. 

Detroitisit: What does STEAM represent for you and LTU? 

Chris Stefani: In short STEAM represents the intersections of industry. We know that technology is changing the workforce and will only continue to do so as advancement and discovery increases. Calton Pu, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology captures this very idea well. He said: ‘The workforce of the future will need to adapt to new technology and new markets. The people who can adapt the best (and fastest) will win.’  

STEAM for us is just that, areas of study that run both parallel and perpendicular to one another, but most importantly this will be the place where new tech and markets emerge from where they intersect. 

DII: The ages of 12-14 that you’re targeting for the camp are prime for pliable minds to be veering into so many different directions, how do you propose getting them to focus. 

CS: I think, as in the case with most adolescents, there are a few keys to engaging the youth and honing their energy into focused work for the task set before them. 

First, we’re cultivating a relationship with the students similar to the way that any successful leadership does with their fellowship. Creating a mutual respect and peer-like relationship allows the youth to get invested in their work and to feel ownership over not only the results but the process.   

Second, we’re honing in on their interests and making a clear connection between how the smaller activity is plugging into the larger project. All the students who are attending this camp have an underlying interest in design and entrepreneurship – but many times the small tasks that are assigned feel like busy work. The goal here is to get every student invested in every part of the process and show them the value in designing the end result; logo to spread sheet. Everything deserves focus detailed work. 

Finally, and very importantly, we’re creating a healthy work culture. Similar to the way that many organizations are now working, the camp is set up with long, intensive work periods and fun activities that promote movement and creativity throughout. 

DII: The program proposes some lofty goals to be accomplished in five days – develop a business plan, build a prototype, and more – do you believe the students will not only walk with this knowledge but know to think back on how to apply it for their future goals? And how do you propose to assist in that process?  

CS: We know that no one is going to leave here as an expert on design thinking and business creation – but why not? We are looking to make this process and information intuitive, relatable and rational so that the students are able to grasp the concepts and then practice them.  

Yes, we believe students will understand how to apply these concepts. It comes back to LTU’s original mantra of Theory and Practice – once you have a working ability to apply knowledge through practice, you are able to apply the theory to different situations. 

DII: What do you think it is about the practice of design that can get those outside of or new to the field thinking about solutions through design in a new way? 

CS: The idea of maybe that is inherent to the practice of design is key – maybe yes, maybe no. After all, anything is possible right?  

Design is a means of problem solving. Where we differ is the ability to look at creating solutions that shift the status quo, reject it, or even accept it and add to it. I believe everything is possible in design until you prove it can’t be done – and this type of mindset breeds innovation. 

DII: Why are you working with the partners you have for the program? What do they offer that others may not? 

CS: I really admire the work of the Henry Ford Learning Institute. They are very passionate about their work with students and they have a clear and concise program outline for the Ford STEAM Lab camps. Their past participants have produced excellent results and there is a shared belief between our two institutions when it comes to the ideals of youth economic empowerment and how we educate students in the K-12 pipeline.  

With regards to our generous partnership / sponsorship of .Design Domains, this was a no brainer! They flawlessly host the Center’s website and really are forward-thinking in regard to branding in the digital age for the design industry. All of our design teams for the workshop will be pitching their products through the launch of a .design website. 

DII: What’s your dream to be accomplished by this year’s program? 

CS: We aim to the students’ eyes to the possibilities that exist for them in design. We want to help them realize their potential and curate a goal – or plan – or pathway for a child to look toward, to chase. I think students have such amazing potential. They are truly a wealth of knowledge and fresh perspectives; untarnished by the realities we face in adulthood. When we invest in them, and help them understand the value in investing in themselves, we are creating a better future. We’re working toward a more resilient and educated citizenry, who will be the leaders of tomorrow.