The countdown is on to finish up final construction details for Summerville Elementary School’s future STEAM lab, set to open next month.

On Saturday, members of Leadership Dorchester’s 2019 class were putting in hard labor to complete the unique facility meant to benefit students’ understanding of topics relating to science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Like STEM education, STEAM combines such technological aspects with the creative and design aspects of art.

But as the class pieced together tables, lifted large wood blocks, hammered away at nails and continued planning the lab’s indoor and outdoor classroom features, they weren’t alone. They received some assistance from Rep. Joe Cunningham, SC-1.

Cunningham aids construction of new STEAM lab at Summerville Elementary

Class member Laura Macon paints part of the indoor lab classroom.

“It directly impacts the lives of students and the faculty here, staff,” Cunningham said of the lab and why he wanted to roll up his sleeves and contribute some muscle to the project. “Trying to do my small part here. …I know the importance of it and the value of this whole team building thing.”

It was Leadership Dorchester class member Sean Wilson, chair of Dorchester County’s Democratic Party, who conceived the idea to enlist the congressman’s aid. Cunningham said in addition to supporting such an educationally-driven project, he was prompted to help because of his familiarity with the leadership class, after having once been a part of one in Florida where he lived.

“They were really accessible and very excited about coming,” said class leader Jordan Bryngelson about Cunningham’s team. “He wanted to come and make sure he...did something—contributed work. He’s like, ‘I don’t really want to come do a speech, but if I can come paint something or turn a screw or something, then I’m down for that.’”

After learning about the project, Cunningham expressed his hops that the lab positively impact the Summerville community’s younger generation, showing them how STEAM education provides unique career opportunities in their own home state.

“I just hope that it motivates students to get engaged and get involved in STEAM and realize that it has a big future for kids, especially in South Carolina,” Cunningham said. “We’re becoming an auto-manufacturing hub and with the businesses moving in here like Volvo and Boeing and tons of other smaller businesses, I think that the future is bright for STEAM majors…not to mention Charleston is already a big arts area, too, so the introduction of these other businesses, I think, just opens up other doors for these students, so I hope they realize the opportunities are boundless.”

Bryngelson said Cunningham is also trying to get the Library of Congress to donate curriculum to the lab, set to have its big reveal on Oct. 7.

“We’ll do a reveal day for the school with a big STEAM rally, and then we’re going to do a community reveal that evening,” Bryngelson said.

Leadership Dorchester partnered with the State Library Association to fund $25,000 in grant money for the project—also in partnership with Dorchester County Public Library. Total, the class raised more than $75,000, all of which will benefit the lab in some way, Bryngelson said.

In addition to incorporating technology like robots and drones, the lab will include a large Lego wall, among other special features and equipment.

Should the lab prove successful with students, the library plans to apply for another state grant to construct a mobile STEAM lab capable of traveling to schools across the county.

Leadership Dorchester is also donating at least $2,500 to the science/”tinker” lab at Williams Memorial Elementary School in St. George.

“So that they can just get some new supplies and things that just aren’t in their budget,” Bryngelson said.

Coordinated by the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Dorchester annually funds a project for a local organization. The group is comprised of 30 community members wishing to learn more about the place they live, work and play.

Cunningham aids construction of new STEAM lab at Summerville Elementary

Cunningham with Leadership Dorchester’s 2019 class

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