For Dr. Shelly Gruenig, the executive director of R4 Creating, Wednesday’s opening of the STEAM Center of Excellence was a dream come true.

Gruenig has been working for years to turn R4 Creating  into a center for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities with workshops, competition space, warehouse space, performing space for performing arts and robotics.

That work has paid off with the opening of the STEAM Center of Excellence in Rio Rancho. Gruenig partnered with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Encantado Foundation to open the center, which is located at R4 Creating, and will include state-of-the-art STEAM educational products, technology, furniture and more.

“This center, for me, is a dream come true that we can change that story for the children of New Mexico who deserve so much more,” Gruenig said.

More than 100 people celebrated the opening at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and community celebration Wednesday. After the ceremony, the crowd was treated to a STEAM expo with younger students interacting with STEAM products, while older students provide demonstrations with robotics.

The crowd included state Reps. Kathleen Cates and Alan Martinez, Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull and Sandoval County Commission Chair Dave Heil. All looked on as Gruenig emotionally thanked the crowd and her students for helping the STEAM Center of Excellence become a reality.

“This center is just the beginning of a dream that many of us have had,” Gruenig said. “Together, we can change the lives of children by providing opportunities for fun and learning together.”

Gruenig founded R4, originally known as the Rio Rancho Robo Runners, in 2005 and has been offering championship STEM/STEAM programming in Sandoval County at the career training center at 4311 Sara Road, Suite 107. She is focused on programs to build the young STEM/STEAM workforce, support educators with emerging technologies and to provide thought leadership in order to link industry with their future workforce. Now, she wants to expand to reach and teach even more children with a center in Rio Rancho that holds more students and technology.

R4 Creating, which has won multiple championships and awards, works to connect STEAM educators with the necessary resources to prepare students ages 6-18 to enter the STEAM Workforce Pipeline. R4 promotes the growth of STEAM education and enrichment through its robotics teams and a Robotics Leadership Academy. Classes cost $175 per semester, but Gruenig said no child has ever been turned away from the program. She works tirelessly to raise money to make sure any student who wants it has access to the lessons learned at R4.

“I say it’s like at the intersection of where fun and learning collide. Because it is that, right?” Gruenig said. “It also it just takes more resources. We’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of really great volunteers over the years. Because it takes a whole staff of volunteers to supervise, make sure everybody’s safe, especially around the machines, and not only just say fingers and toes, but also save hearts and minds and just helping them, but there’s so much reward from it.”

The new facility will expand Gruenig’s reach and teach even more children with the center in Rio Rancho that holds more students and technology.

The opening of the new facility comes in partnership with the Cal Ripken Senior Foundation, which has installed 134 STEM Centers in elementary schools across 22 counties in Texas and New Mexico. The foundation’s EVP of STEM & Outcome Measurements, Joe Rossow, was on hand for the celebration.

“This center will help meet a much-needed demand for resources in Rio Rancho,” Rossow said. “We know that introducing these tools to students early on in their education can help them excel and help them expand their future career options.”

R4Creating’s mission is to provide support for those organizations, making contributions to increase the number of STEM/STEAM opportunities for students. While its nonprofit status was only established in 2016, organization volunteers have been supporting STEM in the community and across the country since 2005.  At that time, R4 Robotics, a community-based robotics team of approximately 40 students ages 10-18, was founded. Since that day, R4 has engaged youth in building their STEM knowledge through competitions, leadership opportunities and entrepreneurial endeavors.
The Encantado Foundation was formed to provide comprehensive enterprise and mission-embedded IT support for Sandia National Laboratories personnel and the lab’s infrastructure at multiple locations across the United States.
“It is an honor to be associated with the newest Cal Ripken Sr. STEAM Center and to play a role in bringing this resource to our community,” Encantado Foundation Director Jay Heneghan said. “The Encantado Foundation’s mission is to help strengthen our regional high-tech ecosystem and to create more hire-ready technologists in our region, but this work must start with our youngest learners. This center will help expose area kids to all that STEAM has to offer in a fun and inviting space, hopefully planting a seed that will lead them into a tech career down the road.”