Devin Keck  is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, but he also finds time to do some good outside the lab and classroom. The Charleston native is part of a team working to turn the recently closed Holly Springs Elementary School into a fully functioning community center.

Keck’s role is to transform part of the center into a STEAM Lab, where K-12 students would sharpen their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Devin Keck, right, is working with Abby Backer to breathe new life into a recently closed elementary school by turning it into a community center with a STEAM program.

Devin Keck, right, is working with Abby Baker, left, to breathe new life into a recently closed elementary school by turning it into a community center with a STEAM program.

It’s an all-volunteer effort that is just gearing up under the name The Holly Springs Center. They have a good start that includes a preschool and courses that range from photography to silversmithing.

The team also held a STEAM summer program, and they have a vision for the STEAM Lab.

“They would bus students to our community center, and we would run an all-day STEAM program,” Keck said. “In the far-future, the possibilities are endless. We have an entire school of empty classrooms. Ideally, it’s an opportunity to turn a closed-down school into something good for the Pickens community.”

Keck began working on the center after meeting Abby Baker at a STEAM networking event.  Baker, who serves as center director, is an alumnus of the elementary school and is now pursuing her Ph.D. in learning sciences at Clemson.

Their different areas of expertise– his in engineering and hers in education– complement each other, she said.

“To me, it’s really encouraging that there is someone else my age who is working to make a difference,” Baker said. “It’s really refreshing that I’ve found Devin.”

Keck keeps a schedule packed with research and teaching responsibilities.

He said that he has access to a bacteria that extrudes a single fiber. He is working to control the bacteria with electricity and light. His work could lead to a 3D printer with a resolution much smaller than anything currently available.

“Right now, people use plastics, and you have to deal with the nozzles to generate the right diameter,” he said. “But we’re using the bacteria to extrude our material, so our fibers are much, much smaller than anything that exists. You could make components that are smaller than anything that could be made right now.”

Keck was a still an undergraduate when his now-advisor, Rodrigo Martinez-Duarte, selected him for an assistantship that required some knowledge of biology.

“He said, ‘Yeah, that’s no problem,’” Martinez-Duarte recalled. “He was very pro-active in taking classes in biology. He took microbiology classes. He had the enthusiasm and the practicality. He also comes across as a person who solves problems.”