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STEM 'Imaginarium' in Kansas to Work with Local Schools

An incubator space in Emporia, Kans., will host classes and activities for kindergarten through sixth grade, collaborating with local districts to build programs in robotics, engineering, web design and other subjects.

(TNS) — A nonprofit, STEM-based education organization is coming to Emporia Main Street's Incubator Space, located at 729 Commercial St., Main Street announced this week.

Imaginarium, founded by Melanie Curtis and Dell Jacob, aims to brings science, technology, engineering and math to area youth through project-based learning opportunities. Both Curtis and Jacob are certified teachers, formerly employed by the USD 253 Emporia Public Schools District with a combined 33 years in education.

"We've both been teaching STEM for the school district," Jacob said. "I've always been big on project-based learning and I went to Johnson County Library's Maker Space three years ago, right before I went into the STEM position. I liked the fact that everybody could go in there and use the equipment. Just anybody off the street can schedule time to go in and learn how to use their equipment."

In January, Jacob and Curtis began brainstorming. They reached out to Emporia Main Street director Casey Woods and then-Ignite Emporia director Rob Gilligan, who both recommended they reach out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Emporia State University.

"We met with Lisa Brumbaugh and developed a business plan and, through that process, we realized that this could work in Emporia," Curtis said.

Curtis and Jacob presented Imaginarium during Emporia Main Street's Show of Hands Entrepreneurial Pitch competition in April, and earned some seed money toward their business idea.

"We were really pleased to have Imaginarium as one of our pitches," Woods said. "The Show of Hands initiative was designed to empower the community to support local entrepreneurs, and this concept was very well received by the audience. Emporia Main Street is looking forward to incubating Imaginarium and helping them become a permanent fixture in the community."

From there, Jacob and Curtis decided to apply for the Incubator Space. Both credited Woods with making that process easy and answering their many questions.

"We've learned a lot," Jacob said.

During the research process, the teachers found that Kansas had some startling low numbers when it comes to STEM education, which helps students gain critical thinking skills, endurance, problem solving skills and more. Jacob said the number of STEM job openings was far greater than the number of students going into those fields. Since both of them have worked with kids who are interested in those fields, Jacob said the pair realized they could help encourage that on a wider scale.

"There's something called the 'engineering design process' and it's really never-ending," Jacob said. By definition, the engineering design process is "a series of steps that engineers follow to find a solution to a problem. The steps include problem solving processes such as, for example, determining your objectives and constraints, prototyping, testing and evaluation."

Curtis said Imaginarium is geared toward ages 5-12 — or students in kindergarten through sixth grade — and will include a variety of classes and activities.

"We'll have evening classes Monday-Friday," Jacob said. "A class might be robotics, engineering, web design, wood working. There's so many. Not every child likes the same thing, so we're offering a variety of options. I think there's something for everybody."

Classes will range from 30-60 minutes long and Jacob said the cost will be comparable to dance or gymnastics classes. The goal, she said, is to make sure everyone can afford to send their kids to a STEM class.

Imaginarium will also focus on an initiative to partner with area school districts in Lyon, Chase, Coffee, Greenwood, Morris, and Osage counties to bring STEM opportunities into their schools. So far, they have partnered with Emporia Christian School.

Curtis said they will collaborate with the districts to create curriculula that meet the needs of their students. Times will also be available for homeschooled students.

Another driving factor behind Imaginarium is the fact that both Jacob and Curtis are parents who have noticed a need for activities like this in the community. Both said they have traveled outside of the community, to places like Wichita or Topeka, in order to give their kids access to STEM activities.

Curtis said Imaginarium is set to open in August, with class enrollment beginning soon. The first classes will be offered after Labor Day.

To learn more about Imaginarium and their upcoming classes, camps, and outreach programs, you can visit their Facebook and Instagram pages, @emporiaimaginarium. A web site is currently under construction.

For those that would like to support this organization, financial gifts may be made to the Emporia Community Foundation c/o Imaginarium or you can contact the founders directly. Curtis can be reached via email at and Jacob can be reached at

For more information on the Incubator Space at Emporia Main Street or the Show of Hands Entrepreneurial Competition, please contact Emporia Main Street at 620-340-6430.

©2022 The Emporia Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.