Pinhead Institute: Telluride High School STEM Room, Update

Pinhead Institute: Telluride High School STEM Room, Update

Groundbreaking public/private partnership increases local 21st-century learning opportunities. 

The Pinhead Institute has teamed with the Telluride School District to equip and operate a new, dedicated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Room at the Telluride High School, part of anexpansion project currently undergoing finishing touches.

Pinhead’s program manager Claire Carver with Formlab’s 3D desktop printer.

Pinhead’s program manager Claire Carver with Formlab’s 3D desktop printer.

Funded and facilitated through a groundbreaking public/private partnership between the Telluride-based non-profit Pinhead Institute, a Smithsonian Affiliate, and the local public school district, the 1,000 square-foot facility (Room 222) will initially be fitted with high and low-tech equipment ranging from 3D printers, computers, and robotics kits to a bike repair station.

“Bike repair is engineering for everyone,” said Pinhead executive director Sarah Holbrooke. “With this new station we’re offering local kids hands-on, engineering experience around something they are already familiar with and excited by.”

Holbrooke noted the first class being offered in the THS STEM Room is fully subscribed: “The Science of Construction and Design,” taught by Derek Engebretsen and incorporating bicycle maintenance into the curriculum.

“In this class we are going to help students learn to solve problems creatively, but also with a logical framework,” Engebretsen explained. “Bicycle maintenance is one of many ways of presenting students with problems that need fixing, but it also gives us the opportunity to incorporate a service element. We are hoping to partner with the Library’s pink bike program so that the kids can eventually help out with the maintenance of the older bikes in that fleet.”

Pinhead’s bike repair station.

Pinhead’s bike repair station.

Through hands-on investigation and open-ended exploration with these and other materials, students throughout the region will be guided to proficiency in skills viewed as essential for success in the 21st century workforce. Such skills include creative thinking, teamwork, reasoning, and problem-solving, among others.

“Pinhead is becoming the region’s go-to organization for promoting and providing STEM education here, so we weren’t surprised but we were delighted when Superintendant Mike Gass came to us and asked us to be part of this amazing opportunity for kids,” said Holbrooke.

“We are excited for the partnership,” Gass said.

In order to complete the facility, Pinhead has committed to raising $100,000 over the next four years to purchase the equipment needed to run both in-school classes taught by public school teachers as well as afterschool and vacation classes taught by Pinhead staff and volunteers.

In return for outfitting the room, Pinhead will have priority use of the facility for afterschool and vacation programs from now throughout the 2019/2020 school year.

“Our earliest efforts were supported by the Telluride Education Foundation We R-1, and I have met with regional partners and representatives all the way up to the federal Department of Education gathering best practices for rooms such as this,” added Holbrooke.

“People in the community have been embracing this idea with enthusiasm, and I feel confident we will meet our fundraising goals,” she continued. “We are always open to more ideas for funding and sourcing so I invite suggestions.”

As the STEM Room launches this month, Pinhead will offer a mix of free and for-pay afterschool programs there. These include a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Robotics club meeting from September 12 – December 8, 3:30 – 5 p.m., Mondays and Thursdays.

Open to all interested 9- to 14-year-olds, the free program challenges students to think like scientists and engineers as they build, test, and program autonomous robots to solve a set of missions during this year’s Animal Allies Challenge. The season culminates with the regional FLL robotics competition in Durango.

Thanks to grant support from the Telluride Foundation, building upon the local success of this popular program, for the second year in a row Pinhead is also facilitating FLL teams throughout the region in Norwood, Naturita, Nucla, Ridgway, and Ouray. Those seeking to participate or volunteer as coaches should contact Holbrooke at

For five Tuesdays beginning September 13, students 6th grade and up are invited to participate in the Smithsonian Affliates free Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos astrophotography project, 2 – 4:30 p.m.

Supported by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, participants will take and colorize their own images of stars and galaxies the same way professional astronomers do. Finished photographs will be part of an exhibition mounted by Pinhead later in the school year.

“This is the third time the Smithsonian has provided Pinhead a grant to run this stellar program,” Holbrooke said. “Kids in Telluride are fascinated by space, probably because of our gorgeous night skies.”

Additionally, Pinhead instructors will be available this fall to meet with students of all ages on Thursdays starting September 8, 6 – 8 p.m., for a series of 3D Modeling and Printing drop-in workshops. Suitable for novice and experienced makers, students will learn to model in Solidworks and to operate a Form Labs stereolithography printer. Cost is $20 per session plus materials. (Price varies according to project.)

These initial STEM Room programs supplement the non-profit’s programming at its Pinhead HQ facility at the Cimarron Lodge. There, it will offer a range of computer coding, general science, and robotics classes, as well as art and science collaborations with the Ah Haa School for the Arts, throughout the fall semester and beyond.

“I come at this opportunity not only as the head of Pinhead, but also as the mother of two kids in the public school. I want to make sure that mine and all kids in this community have the opportunity to learn the skills they’ll need for successful futures,” said Holbrooke.

For more information and to register, go here.

About Pinhead:

The Pinhead Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Smithsonian Affiliate based in Telluride, Colorado that educates and inspires children and adults in the greater Telluride region about the wonders of science and technology through engaging programs, direct interaction with scientists, and unique research-centered internship experiences. To learn more visit: or call 970-369-5190.

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