Adrian Favela, a Chicago high student interested in art and graphic design, was skeptical when his teacher invited him to check out a teen lab at the Shedd Aquarium.
Favela, a recent graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, was unsure how the aquarium could help him pursue those interests.
He is now the Teen Learning Lab’s most frequent visitor; he even used the resources at the lab to lead a workshop on pixel art and design a digital game.
“I noticed a change after my workshop,” Favela said. “It improved my leadership skills and I got comfortable talking to people that I didn’t know.”
The Teen Learning Lab opened last September at the Shedd to provide high school students like Favela a space to pursue their interests by letting them use technology they might not have access to at home or school.
“Sometimes if you want to do a project or have something in your mind that you’d like to pursue, if it’s not part of a school project, it’s really hard to find resources by yourself,” said Brian Gomez, a student who helped design the lab. “The Learning Lab really helps teens develop their ideas.”
The Teen Learning Lab is open free of cost to high school students — as long as they have a valid high school ID — to study, hang out or work on projects. Students also can team up with Shedd staff to help conduct research and see aquarium exhibits after hours.
Along with Apple laptop computers, printers and iPads, the lab is equipped with a Smart Board and access to 3-D printers, along with other technology.
One student used the 3-D printer to make a phone case for her iPhone.
The lab is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays year-round. Students are welcome to come and go as they please, as long as they sign in. Weekday hours are 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the school year. Saturdays, the lab is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Workshops and daily programs are offered by the staff for those interested, but the flexibility of the lab allows students to design their own learning experience.
“I don’t ever feel forced to do anything [at the lab],” Favela said. “If you want to do something, you can; if you don’t, fine.”
Starting next month, Favela will intern at the Shedd as a teen tech advisor. He credits this to the help he got from Wade Berger, a staff member at the Learning Lab, who helped him create a resume.
“I told him I needed a job and I didn’t know where to start,” Favela said. “He helped me find a job, which I’m really thankful for.”