Mobile desks, interactive whiteboards, high-definition projectors, sound-reflecting panels, friction-resistant floors. And enough bandwidth capable of supporting 999 devices.
Those are among the features in Tampa Preparatory School's renovated 6,400-square-foot wing dedicated to the study of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, popularly referred to as STEM. The renovations cost between $500,000 and $600,000.
Tampa Prep's STEM focus mirrors a national trend of schools and other institutions of learning devoting more resources to those careers. "Many schools say take more math and science," said Kevin Plummer, head of school.
Though the renovations were two years in the making, it was well worth the wait, judging from the students' early reactions.
On a recent day, ninth-grader David Ebbert burst into the head of school's office exited to share the countdown clock he created on his iPad to track the precise time until he receives his pilot's license.
Students' interest in engineering is starting earlier than ever, with 42 sixth-graders taking an introduction to robotics course and 12 seventh- and eighth-graders enrolled in intermediate robotics.
Tampa Prep also offers underwater robotics, an engineering design and development course. Just two weeks into the new school year, students were working together to conquer lead circuits, the first step in creating a brain to power their final project, an underwater robot.
KK Quah, an engineering teacher, said the underwater robotics class "combines all the elements of designing and building, hardware and software, and great team skills to get the job done."
Donald Morrison, dean of faculty, said students in the STEM program have to complete their senior internship in a STEM field and spend at least one semester completing a visual arts course.
The students also must participate in STEM-related extracurricular activities, such as the science fair or robotics club, and attend related off-campus events. They also go to on-campus lectures by speakers like Col. Robert Shane Kimbrough, a NASA astronaut.
After completing the program, students receive a STEM certificate, which "will allow students to get a leg up on other students who intend to major in a STEM field in college both during the application process and once classes begin," Morrison said.
Jean Wall, director of college counseling, added: "A STEM certificate indicates to college admissions officers that a student has been willing to go above and beyond in his or her academic career in high school."