(First published in the December 6, 2018 issue of City Pages)
IFLEED Institute spreads the love of science, technology, engineering and math
Shanthi Mojumder, founder of IFLEED, teaches a student as he constructs solar system models.
When Shanthi Mojumder moved with her family from Chicago to Wausau last year, she saw something missing for her own child: a really good after school program focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
Having been a teacher and data analyst, including for the Chicago Public School System, the solution seemed obvious to Mojumder and her husband, a doctor with Aspirus: Start her own.
Thus was born IFLEED Institute of Math and Science, in a small office building on Wausau’s north side at 1720 Merrill Ave. Children from ages 4 to 14 flock to IFLEED’s hands-on STEM projects. Students attend the class once a week for eight weeks.
The one-hour classes, capped at a maximum of ten students and divided by age groups, aims to take a deeper look into STEM topics. In one class studying the solar system, for example, the students don’t just learn about stars and planets, they create a solar system model by studying their properties and then representing what they learn through a model.
In another, children learn coding through the use of a maze or using beads. The idea is that the hands-on style helps solidify the lessons and helps children retain what they learn, as well as keeping them engaged and interested in the subject, Mojumder says. All the classes use manipulatives—learning tools the kids can touch and play around with to provide a tactile, physical experience.
“We find that children are very receptive to knowledge,” Mojumder says. “They like to play, create.”
Mojumder has an interesting background. She was a middle school teacher in the Chicago Public School System and was a data analyst for Harmony Science Academy in Texas. She also currently teaches part time at Northcentral Technical College.
One of her goals with IFLEED is to create more STEM interest, and more STEM professionals, to fill jobs in those fields. IFLEED has classes that focus on engineering, science, computer coding and geometry — there’s even a class called Art in STEAM. They are divided by age group, such as 4-5 year olds, or 9-11 year olds. Mojumder will also move students to a different class if they seem ready for the next level up, she says.
That’s important, because research shows that interest in the STEM fields can drop off quite a bit by middle school if those topics aren’t actively encouraged. Mojumder says girls are given separate classes to help them learn in an environment where they can make mistakes without being ridiculed — something she says can help drive girls away from STEM fields. “We have it for them so they can build confidence, so they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from it,” Mojumder says.
What does the program’s name mean? “Fleed” refers to a pod, Mojumder says, and the “i” stands for innovation, so IFLEED refers to her classes as little pods of innovation.
IFLEED holds one hour classes 4:00–6:15 pm weekdays. Classes are $160 for eight weeks, which includes materials and supplies. To learn more, go to ifleedinstitute.com, call 715-600-1851, or email [email protected].