As the owner of a tech firm, Raman Khurana had a hard time finding adequately trained talent. He saw the “grim” statistics that only 40 percent of high school graduates go onto college.
Budget cuts require schools to focus on core subjects and the homeschool community doesn’t receive the same opportunities as other students.
So, he did something about it. The PerfOpt Technologies Inc. President and CEO founded Immersive Teaching STEAM Academy (ITSA) in June 2016 in Goodyear with Jana Dutton, program director. The nonprofit organization uses a supplementary afterschool model to help prepare students for technology careers.
“We wanted to create a place where we could encourage the kids that were technically savvy to work on hands-on projects and learn the latest skills that are needed or will be needed in the upcoming future and be focused more on the K-12 market,” Khurana said.
While most schools focus on what Khurana calls “standard-based knowledge,” ITSA allows students to gain technology experience. Rather than teaching STEAM subjects as individual ideas, ITSA mixes them and creates projects that require knowledge of each idea.
“In a STEAM or a STEM environment, we create projects that basically combine elements of all these pieces,” Khurana said. “It’s more integrated learning where you have to know a little bit of everything instead of learning science separate and math separate and so on.
“There are many ways to create STEAM projects. However, being a technology company, we use the technology as a foundation for all our education. So, all our projects are technology-based and they use the latest computing equipment in what we do.”
The academy’s staff are strong purveyors of project-based learning, which requires students to work together. This approach promotes critical thinking, problem-solving skills and a hands-on approach to learning.
“Using project-based learning, using team-based development, we like to give them the skill set or environment that they would face in any professional organization,” Khurana explained. “When you graduate, you don’t go to a company, get a corner office and develop the next best system by yourself. You basically become a small part of a big thing and work on a bigger project and everybody plays a role.”
ITSA hosts a variety of courses, including 3-dimensional modeling and technology, robotics, virtual reality development and even Minecraft.
According to Khurana, the Minecraft course was proposed and designed by two high school students to teach coding within the game.
“The academy is for the students, by the students,” he said.
He estimates that high school and college students design 80 percent of ITSA’s courses. Khurana has hired graduates as software developers and teachers at PerfOpt and ITSA.
ITSA takes this a step further and hosts the Girls in Technology program to provide young women with incentives and opportunities to expand their likelihood of entering tech fields.
While the academy’s primary location is in Goodyear, it recently began hosting summer classes at its new Tempe location and is finalizing a Scottsdale location. Khurana also hopes to host some of ITSA’s courses at schools and libraries.
“Our mission is to innovate, inspire and educate,” Khurana said. “The innovation part is for us to continually develop new courses, new projects with the latest technology.
“As a technology company, we are able to keep on top of it. We are able to keep our coursework updated and relevant, but more importantly, we are able to invest in the equipment that is needed; the latest and the greatest equipment.”
ITSA is a platinum sponsor of the Arizona SciTech Festival’s seventh annual Kickoff Conference at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St, on August 31. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $30 for educators, but students can attend for free. Parents and teachers can also use the code “ITSA” to receive $5 off registration fees.