Digital Atelier Connecting Learners To Their Interests
Through Space And Technology
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About the Project

In partnership with Archeworks and Bretford, Convergence Design Lab operating from the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College built Digital Ateliers (DA) in two Chicago Public Schools (Tilden Career Community Academy High School and Donald L. Morrill Math & Science Elementary School). The digital ateliers were built as part of the Convergence Academies project, which was largely funded by the Investing in Innovation (i3) federal grant.

Over the last two and a half years, Convergence has conducted ethnographic observations with a University of Illinois at Chicago School of Education research team, collecting evidence of the DA’s impact on student learning, youth identity development, school culture and teacher innovative practice.

Convergence Design Labs Bretford Archeworks

What is the Digital Atelier?

The Digital Atelier Is An In-School, Student-Centered Makerspace That Provides:

  • A safe, creative environment for students to learn and explore digital media
  • Relationships with caring adults who are tech-savvy and artistic (digital media mentors)
  • Innovative instructional approaches based on interest-driven learning

By connecting student interests
to academics...

The program is expanding traditional ideas about education—while also raising achievement and giving urban students a greater sense of purpose.

When we put students in rows all facing the front of the room, that’s good for classroom management—but it’s not necessarily good for learning. They become passive rather than active participants.

The design of learning spaces is critical to students’ success.

When students have access to flexible, comfortable learning spaces and are given a choice in their learning tools, they are inspired to create and explore.

Statistics shown reflect the changes observed at Tilden Career Community Academy High School from 2014-2015 through 2015-2016 school years.



Students who used the DA at least once during lunch or after school


Attendance compared to students with no participation


Average GPA compared to students with no participation


Average graduation rate increase


Average attendance increase


9th grade on-track rate increase

The Atelier just makes me want to come to school more so I can create the things I want to create.

The flexibility of the space

...makes learning possible in ways that would be difficult or impossible in most traditional classrooms.

Nathan Phillips
Researcher - University of Illinois-Chicago

Connect With Our Team

Operating from the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College Chicago, Convergence Design Lab is comprised of learning designers, former teachers and digital media technology specialists with over 50 years of collective expertise working in both formal and informal education settings. It began in 2013 as Convergence Academies, a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation Fund-supported project that partnered closely with two high need Chicago public schools to create and implement a whole-school reform model encouraging 21st Century learning through the integration of digital media and technology into curriculum, instruction, and school culture at large. As active players in the fields of college and career readiness, youth advocacy, education innovation, research, and youth media, Convergence Design Lab aims to strengthen learning ecosystems in Chicago and beyond by drawing on their expertise in creative design thinking strategies, participatory media literacy, learning sciences and digital technologies.

Mindy Faber
Twitter Handle: @mindyfaber

XMindy develops and refines the strategic vision of Convergence Design Studio while planning for sustainability, overseeing budgets, fundraising and grant reporting. Prior to Convergence, she served as the Video Data Bank associate director at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, taught media arts at Evanston high school, founded Open Youth Networks, served as Academic Manager of the department of Interactive Arts and Media at Columbia College and co-chaired the Chicago Youth Voices Network. Mindy holds an MFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA in Liberal Arts with a concentration on Media Production and Critical Analysis from the University of Kentucky.

Don LaBonte
Design Thinking Specialist
Twitter Handle: @DLaBee

XDon brings valuable expertise in project management, coaching, curriculum design, gamification and design thinking to the team. Prior to Convergence, he was a curriculum designer and teacher for ChicagoQuest Schools, a teacher for University of Chicago Charter School, and a senior patrol agent for the US Department of Homeland Security. Don holds a MA in Teaching from National-Louis University and a BA in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Iowa.

Liz Radzicki
Learning Experience Designer
Twitter Handle: @LizRadzicki

XLiz leads professional development sessions, collaborates with teachers on incorporating digital media into the classroom, and designs participatory curricula for youth and educators. Prior to Convergence, she has served as a teaching artist, classroom teacher, museum educator, program manager, and instructional coach in schools and communities in Providence, RI; Austin, TX; and throughout Chicago. Liz has a MA in Management from Columbia College, with a focus in Arts in Youth and Community Development and a BA in Education from Brown University.

Margaret Conway
Learning Experience Designer
Twitter Handle: @margaretkconway

XMargaret leads professional development sessions, collaborates with teachers on incorporating digital media into the classroom, and designs participatory curricula for youth and educators. Prior to Convergence, she taught at ChicagoQuest Schools, served as an arts integration specialist at Chicago Teachers Center, and coordinated a student apprenticeship program at Free Street Theater. Margaret holds a MA in Educational Theatre from NYU and a BA in Social Science and Spanish from the University of Michigan.

Kelsey Greene
Manager of Learning Resources
Twitter Handle: @kelseylgreene

XKelsey provides daily assistance to the director in developing new and emerging initiatives through grant writing and communications while also sharing the success of Convergence through research reports and marketing. Prior to Convergence she developed and taught media education curriculum in Rhode Island and New York. She serves on the leadership council for NAMLE, has an EdM in Education Studies from SUNY University at Buffalo with an advanced certificate in Educational Technology and New Literacies and a BA in Documentary Production from Ithaca College.

Nathan Phillips
Researcher (UIC)
Twitter Handle: @nathancphillips

XNathan is an assistant professor of literacy, language, and culture in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He studies space and place as they relate to literacy and learning—particularly youth learning. He received his PhD in language, literacy, and culture from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and holds a BA and MA in English from Brigham Young University.

Kathleen Tieri Ton
Lead Digital Atelierista (no longer staff)
Twitter Handle: @mstieriton

XKathleen is an art and media educator, with over 10 years of experience ranging in school and community settings. As an educator, her interests and pursuits include developing curricula and learning spaces that foster inquiry, expression, interdisciplinary learning, and remain rooted in social justice. She has a MAT in Art Education from Columbia College Chicago.

Dawn Graham
Digital Media Mentor (no longer staff)
Twitter Handle: @dawnzillamonstr

XAs a digital media mentor for Convergence Academies, Dawn mentored teachers and students in photography. She has a BFA in Studio Arts and BA in Gender Studies from the University of Kentucky and has additional certifications in transformative social work from the University of Vermont.

Luke Sequeria
Digital Media Mentor (no longer staff)
Twitter Handle: @NEYENmL

XAs a Digital Media Mentor for Convergence Academies, Luke mentors teachers and students in music production, design software and maker culture. He also serves as the program coordinator for Adobe Youth Voices in Chicago, the Head of Music Technology at The Opus Institute, and the Lead Project Manager for the Elder Tree. He has a BA in Law from Purdue University but spent most of his time in the music technology labs teaching himself the fundamentals of the recording arts, theory, DJing, and music technology. For over 20 years he has studied music, vibration, sound and its impact on culture through independent inquiry and formal private piano instruction with Stacey De and Company.

Sean Owens
Digital Atelierista (no longer staff)

XSean is an educator, digital media mentor, and learning pathways developer. He is also a talented jazz trumpet player and sound artist who started Lounge Fidelity Recordings with label partner PJ Alton. Through his educational work he has facilitated workshops in digital music, recording arts, digital photography, video and media literacy.

Cindy Eggebrecht
Director of Marketing Communications (Bretford)

XAs Director of Marketing Communications for Bretford Manufacturing, Inc., Cindy leads a team of professionals responsible for domestic and international internal, channel and end user reach. A proven leader and mentor with a background in marketing and sales, Cindy spearheaded the development of the Discovery Guide, an effective marketing tool that helps facility professionals understand, create and implement agile learning spaces. The Discovery Guide centers on a research project also directed by Cindy called iLab, which focuses on the learning space as an educational tool. The project studied student outcomes, teacher evaluations and anecdotal and ethnographic evidence to understand the agility and adaptability of the iLab space and how it supports teaching and learning. This successful model is now being emulated by schools throughout the country.

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