March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Howard County (MD) Libraries to Expand HiTech Initiative with $267,500 IMLS Grant

Maryland’s Howard County Library System (HCLS), the 2013 Gale/Library Journal  Library of the Year, has announced that it will use the $276,500 National Leadership Grant it received last month from the Institute of Library & Museum Services (IMLS) to further develop and expand its HiTech program. The program is a STEM education initiative for teens that provides hands-on, project-based classes in such skill areas as computer programming, 3-D animation, green energy, nanotechnology, music/video production, ebooks, game app design, cybersecurity, and robotics.

Students showcased their projects at the HiTech STEM fair in June 2013 at the Miller Branch of HCLS, funded by a federal grant from IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation. Photo courtesy of HCLS.

“We are proud to leverage the area’s best technology and teaching methodology to deliver a top-quality STEM education experience students clearly enjoy,” says Valerie J. Gross, president and CEO of the Howard County Library System.

The HiTech program—which launched in June, 2012, thanks to grant funding from both the IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation—represents approximately 30 percent of the the entire teen curriculum at HCLS, according to Christie P. Lassen, director of public relations. The new IMLS grant, for a two-year period through October 2015, will enable HiTech to add classes to its existing schedule, expand to more HCLS branches, and add a module that will focus on college-level learning and extensive interaction with STEM professionals in the field, she tells School Library Journal.

HiTech currently comprises three modules: Interact, Improvise, and Invent. Each module incorporates progressively greater levels of instruction.

“It’s very popular,” Lassen says, “because the curriculum is in large part directed by students. We ask them what they’re interested in, what they want to learn about, what they want to do.”

The new fourth module—to be known as the HiTech Academy—will add advanced classes, site visits, interviews with professionals, and attendance at college-sponsored STEM camps (e.g., Howard University). “The idea is that [field visits] would become a much larger part of HiTech,” Lassen explains. “The students are already doing hands-on work, but [now] they can see it in action in the industry.”

Says Angela Brade, chief operating officer at HCLS, “We are proud of the number and diversity of students who have been exposed to cutting-edge (and fun) STEM experiences through HiTech. We look forward to the more advanced curriculum aspects that the Academy will enable.”

Students work on a variety of technology projects at the HiTech STEM Lab summer session at the Savage branch of HCLS. Photo courtesy of HCLS.

This new module, Lassen notes, “will be the most structured and will require the highest level of student commitment. The Academy will appeal especially to teens who are interested in pursuing a STEM major in college. [And] with the new Academy component, we anticipate participation by more high schools students.” At present, HiTech is open to students ages 11 to 18, and the average age of participants is between 11 and 15, Lassen says.

As with all HiTech segments, Academy classes will be guided by the HiTech Board of Advisors, comprised of technology, cybersecurity, scientific, public education, and academic professionals.

According to Lassen, about 675 students ages 11 to 18 have attended HiTech classes at least 3,500 times since the program’s launch at its Savage branch, where they have built robots, launched weather balloons, wrote ebooks, and even developed gaming apps. In fact, Escape from Detention, developed at HiTech, was selected by as a top game, she notes.

Temporarily located elsewhere, HiTech is scheduled to return to its headquarters at the Savage branch in fall 2014 following renovations, Lassen says. In addition, “We are considering expanding HiTech to three additional locations: [the] East Columbia, Central, and Elkridge Branches,” she says. “We also will host a few classes at our Miller Branch to gauge teen interest.”

HiTech operates at HCLS in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and with Mindgrub.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson ( is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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