Capitol Tech’s Fusion Lab prepares students for cutting-edge STEM careers through hands-on, interdisciplinary technology projects

June 8, 2020
a portrait of Dr. Sandy Antunes who provides STEM education in the Fusion Lab

“Capitol Tech students go into problem-solving STEM roles where they use the skills they learn here to make the world a better place,” says Capitol Technology University associate professor of Astronautical Engineering, Dr. Alex “Sandy” Antunes. 

In addition to teaching courses in the Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering program, Dr. Antunes runs the Fusion Lab, which he describes as Capitol Tech’s makerspace. The Fusion Lab encourages collaborative, interdisciplinary projects based on student visions. Astronautical engineering projects can pull students from a variety of majors into the work including a computer science student to handle programming, an electrical engineering student to work on the power system, and a business major to manage the project. Dr. Antunes explains that students “play to their strengths while stretching to interact with other majors.” Cross-disciplinary collaboration may be considered a modern skill, but it is crucial to develop, as most professional settings work in a team format. 

student Sophia LoSchiavo work on a technology project to prepare students for STEM careers in Fusion the Lab

“The Fusion Lab is both a makerspace and a play space for the kind of work that Capitol Tech students will eventually get paid to do in industry roles,” highlights Dr. Antunes. He adds that because these are student-driven projects, this lab is a place for students to have fun. Students excel when they build creative outlets to explore their STEM passion. “It’s so much fun to host open houses with the Fusion Lab because our students can show their parents the project they’re working on. I’ve even had parents tell me that they want to come to Capitol Tech.” 

Capitol Tech students also graduate prepared to handle the pressures of cutting-edge STEM roles because of the confidence they built in their technology skills. “A student will come in thinking, ‘I’m bad at physics’ and my job is to rewrite this – change it from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I haven’t done this yet,” Dr. Antunes explains. Capitol Tech students realize that teams exist to play off each other’s strengths – they learn which areas they excel in and which things they’ll happily give to someone else on the team.    

Where Teaching Doubles as a Learning Experience   

Dr. Antunes and a student work on technology projects that prepare students for STEM careers in the Fusion Lab

Dr. Antunes explains that his role at Capitol Tech is like being a coach, not a lecturer. “I’m here to bring my knowledge of how to solve engineering and technology problems and how to tackle things in ways that can be applied to current fields. When you're involved in technology fields, either you’re on top of things, or you’re irrelevant,” he adds. 

This is important to remember, he says, because “students don’t come to Capitol Tech to learn about what I did 8 years ago. I’m constantly surprised by the ideas and efforts that Capitol Tech students bring. It's always a changing environment.” This is what makes his job exciting and one of the things he loves most about teaching Capitol Tech students. “No two years are the same. We’re able to constantly adapt to where the industry is going – I’m constantly learning, sometimes even alongside my students, for the most cutting-edge areas.” 

two students actively work on a STEM project in the Fusion Lab

For Dr. Antunes, working with Capitol Tech students is like being the coach of a winning team. “I have them work hands-on with all the messiness of real implementations and real tech,” he says. By inspiring his students love for STEM, Dr. Antunes helps them realize that they will change the world. “This is the next generation of people who are going to be crafting the future,” he says proudly, “I feel like I’m doing my small part in making the world a better place by helping them realize their potential.” 

As Washington D.C.’s Premier STEM University, Capitol Technology University offers students the right combination of hands-on learning, interdisciplinary project experience and support to achieve their highest potential. Dr. Alex “Sandy” Antunes is one of many dedicated professors whose goal is to prepare Capitol Tech students for cutting-edge science and technology careers. Capitol Tech students have the advantage of working with Dr. Antunes and students from different majors in the Fusion Lab to hone team-oriented skills that prepare them to lead change in new and developing science and technology industries.