FARMINGTON — “This is a problem-solving studio and we can help with whatever the problem is,” said Dan Ryder, director of the Success and Innovation Center at Mt. Blue Campus. “When a student walks through the door I ask, ‘How can I be helpful?’.”

Dan Ryder, director of the Success and Innovation Center at Mt. Blue Campus, guides senior Kim Webster through a project idea. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal Buy this Photo

The center, also referred to as the SIC, is the result of Ryder and former co-director Becky Dennison wanting a space to support students.

“Becky had a vision for an academic success center,” said Ryder. “I had a vision for a makerspace, where kids could make and create and design. What we ended up with was those two ideas merged into one. Kind of like getting chocolate in peanut butter and you end up with a Reese’s.”

The center is in its final year of a three-year GEAR UP grant. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, is a state grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“This place couldn’t exist without that grant,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve produced enough data and tangible outcome so we can continue this in the future.”

Ryder reaches anywhere between 75 and 100 students a day. He goes out into classrooms, and classes and groups come to the center, as do individual students. Last year, 400 unique visitors came through the door. That is more than half the 750 students enrolled at the campus.

“It’s steady,” he said. “Access to the SIC is just like access to the library.”

The SIC has a 3D printer, technology, games and supplies. He hopes to add digital game design and animation studios and drone and robotics equipment this year, he said.

“The resources here represent every program offered on this campus,” he said. “It is important that the kids have access to the stuff they need to be creative. The best part, it is all paid for with grant money.”

“We offer a compass and a canvas,” he said. “The compass is the direction. The canvas is the place and supplies needed to create.”

Senior Kim Webster of Wilton visited the SIC on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 28. She was working on a visual project for a class. She had an idea but wasn’t sure how to make it work.

Mt. Blue High School senior Kim Webster talks with Success and Innovation Center Director Dan Ryder about an upcoming project. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal Buy this Photo

She wanted to somehow create an open book that covered her subject, Malala Yousafzai, a young writer and advocate for women’s education in Pakistan. Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban and, when she was 17 years old, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Ryder had a commitment in a classroom, but he invited Webster to join him. As they walked down the hall, Ryder asked why Webster had opted to use a book as a visual, “You chose a book because that was her method? Because she was a writer? How might you use a book to show impact? What materials might you use to make that happen?”

Once in the class, Ryder guided Webster through a thinking process that ended up at the core of her idea.

“Why does it have to be an open book,” Ryder asked?

“Her life was an open book,” Webster said.

“Ahhh … that’s the kind of thinking that is going to get noticed,” he replied.

Mt. Blue High School senior Kim Webster of Wilton listens as Success and Innovation Center Director Dan Ryder offers suggestions for a project. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal

Ryder suggested different methods, tools and technologies she could use to bring her vision to life.

“This was your idea,” he said. “You ended up in the same place you were in the beginning. Now you know how you are going to get there.”

The end result? Webster felt much better about the project.

Sometimes students need help with an essay, materials to complete a project or access to technology, he said.

Sometimes they need more.

“What we do while we are supporting academics is we support the other side of who they are … their identity, their relationships … it’s not just about the immediate need. There are often underlying needs,” he said.

He recalled one student who came in looking for direction on a project. “We talked about it but at one point I said, ‘You are totally not thinking about the essay. What do you need?’. It turned into a counseling session. Kids can’t learn if there are emotional challenges. I am honored that they trust me but I have a piece of paper that says I am a teacher, not a counselor,” he said.

But he is in a position to be more than their teacher. He is an advocate and ally for students.

If it gets to a point that Ryder realizes he is not the person they need to talk to, he helps them navigate to connecting with someone in guidance, counseling or social work.

“It that doesn’t work for them, I will be right here supporting them until we find something that does,” he said.

The best part, he said is seeing a student he has already directed, either by compass or to the canvas, help a student with the same challenges.

“That makes me feel really good,” he said. “These kids are brilliant and wonderful.”

 


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