STEM-based learning is coming to Incubator Space | Free | Wender Mind Kids

 STEM-based learning is coming to Incubator Space |  Free

A nonprofit, STEM-based educational organization is coming to Emporia Main Street’s Incubator Space, located at 729 Commercial St., Main Street, and announced this week.

Founded by Melanie Curtis and Dell Jacob, Imaginarium aims to bring science, technology, engineering and math to young people through project-based learning opportunities. Both Curtis and Jacob are certified teachers who were formerly employed by the USD 253 Emporia Public Schools District and have been in the education sector for a combined 33 years.

“We both taught STEM for the school district,” Jacob said. “I’ve always been a big fan of project-based learning and joined Johnson County Library’s Maker Space three years ago, just prior to starting the STEM position. I liked the fact that anyone could go in there and use the gear, anyone off the street can set aside time to go in and learn how to use their gear.”

In January, Jacob and Curtis began brainstorming. They reached out to Emporia Main Street director Casey Woods and then Ignite Emporia director Rob Gilligan, both of whom recommended contacting 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 at Emporia,” said Curtis.

Curtis and Jacob pitched Imaginarium during Emporia Main Street’s Show of Hands Entrepreneurial Pitch competition in April and earned some seed money for their business idea.

“We were very excited to have Imaginarium as one of our pitches,” said Woods. “The show of hands initiative was developed to engage the community in supporting local entrepreneurs and this concept has been very well received by the audience. Emporia Main Street looks forward to incubating Imaginarium and helping them become a staple in the community.”

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

“We learned a lot,” Jacob said.

During the research process, teachers found that Kansas had amazingly low scores when it came to STEM education, which helps students gain critical thinking, perseverance, problem-solving skills, and more. Jacob said the number of STEM job openings is far greater than the number of students going into those fields. Because both have worked with children interested in these areas, the couple realized they could help promote this more broadly, Jacob said.

“There’s such a thing as the ‘engineering design process,’ and it’s really endless,” Jacob said. By definition, the design process is “a series of steps that engineers follow to find a solution to a problem.

Curtis said Imaginarium is aimed at the 5 to 12 year old age group — or students in kindergarten — sixth grade — and will include a variety of classes and activities.

“We will have evening classes Monday through Friday,” Jacob said. “A class can be robotics, engineering, web design, woodworking. There are so many. Not every kid likes the same thing, so we offer a variety of options. I think there is something for everyone.”

Classes will last between 30 and 60 minutes, and Jacob said the cost is 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 work with school districts in Lyon, Chase, Coffee, Greenwood, Morris and Osage counties to bring STEM opportunities to their schools. So far they have worked with Emporia Christian School.

Curtis said they will work with districts to create curricula that meet the needs of their students. Times will also be available for homeschooling students.

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

Curtis said the Imaginarium will open in August and enrollment in the courses will begin soon. The first courses will be offered after Labor Day.

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

Anyone who would like to support this organization can make financial donations to the Emporia Community Foundation c/o Imaginarium or contact the founders directly. Curtis can be reached via email at and Jacob at

For more information about the Emporia Main Street incubator space or the Show of Hands entrepreneurship competition, please contact Emporia Main Street at 620-340-6430.