AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students at an Austin high school can now explore the worlds of video game design, virtual reality and ethical hacking at a state-of-the-art STEM learning center.
Formula 1 drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo helped unveil the facility at Northeast Early College High School on Wednesday morning.
The $1.5 million center was designed in collaboration with Dell Technologies to help students develop the skills they need to pursue careers in the tech industry.
Norris, who will race for McLaren alongside teammate Ricciardo at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, said the new technology can help students follow their dreams.
“This is something we’re very excited to be a part of, because there’s a chance that you could be with us,” Norris said. “You could be part of McLaren, you can be part of Formula 1.”
McLaren’s chief commercial officer Claire Cronin added STEM plays a major role in racing, telling students they could one day help the team close the gap on their rivals.
“We know, as we go out onto the track this coming weekend where we currently sit third in the championship, that if we could recruit more of the unbelievable talent in this room, that we would be able to get to first position,” she said.
With its own server, a computer lab featuring 32 work stations and esports capabilities, the center will serve as a digital playground where students can learn and develop a variety of tech skills.
Cybersecurity is a major focus of the facility. It will play a significant role in Northeast’s P-TECH program, in which students can take free college classes and earn an associate degree in cybersecurity from Austin Community College.
That’s reflected in the design of the center, which simulates a cybersecurity industry workplace, according to Austin ISD.
It also has designated areas for esports – competitive video gaming, an industry that is constantly growing within the tech landscape.
“You have to learn how to collaborate, you have to communicate, you have to think critically, you have to problem solve,” said Snow White, an education strategist with Dell. “There’s innovation and creativity.”
White explained the worlds of esports and STEM are closely entwined – making it a priority in the design of Northeast’s center.
“When you really start looking at game design, you’re going to look at the mathematics piece of it, you’ll look at engineering, even architecture,” she said.
“When you look at STEM and you look at esports, you really do see a close alignment,” White added. “Not only is it a passion of students, but it’s also aligning those STEM careers, and they can actually go into a career in esports from here too, so it just gives them another pathway.”
Northeast students were able to tour the facility for the first time after Norris and Ricciardo cut the ribbon.
Assistant principal Kevin Garcia showed off the facilities, including a $300,000 server students can hack to bring down – importantly, without impacting Austin ISD’s other IT facilities.
Garcia explained the need for high-tech resources by comparing the use of outdated equipment to the lessons students are being taught.
“We’re asking our students to be innovative and solve the problems of the future, but we’re not giving them the space to really have that innovation,” he said.
That will no longer be a problem in Northeast’s new computer lab, Garcia said.
“Any student can come into this lab and have the most up to date technology at their fingertips, not just today, but for the next five or six years,” he added.