White Plains STEM educator The Digital Arts Experience adds adult courses

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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The Digital Arts Experience, a provider of STEM-focused after-school and weekend classes in White Plains, will roll out an offering of courses for adults this fall.

Courses, which started Sept. 20, include DSLR photography, website building, programming with Python, 3-D printing, video editing and more.

Rob Kissner started the company in 2012, and he said at the time his goal was to work with adults right away. He previously worked in media production, managing recording studios. But he also did private computer training and consulting for adults and worked for Apple helping people understand their new Mac computers.

“My background in teaching was with adult learners, so that’s my passion,” Kissner said.

But without the needed staff size and budget to market to adults, the company shifted its focus solely to school-age children.

“Over the last two years we’ve gotten comfortable with our business with kids and it’s doing well, so now we have the ability to put more time and effort into marketing classes toward adults,” he said.

The staff for The DAE, as it’s often referred to, has grown in two years from the initial three people to 18 part-time staff and four full-timers during the summer. The company has grown on the strength of its programs aimed at providing instruction in computer programming, 3-D printing, animation, graphic design, photography and more to children age 6 and up.

The DAE has taught more than 1,000 students since launching two years ago, including partnerships with school districts such as Edgemont and Scarsdale and organizations such as The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry and the city of White Plains Youth Bureau.

In 2014, The DAE launched a mobile tech lab, dubbed the DAExpress, to offer after-school programs on location in Westchester and Fairfield counties.

The company leases an 8,000-square-foot office on the first floor of 170 Hamilton Ave. in White Plains, part of the GHP Office Realty portfolio. The building features a recording studio, a room with four 3-D printers, small computer labs stocked with Macs and a photo studio.

But Kissner said The DAE’s instructors, many of them recent college grads working as freelancers in various industries, are more often found in the field. They operate in schools, the DAExpress mobile lab and other locations away from the company’s headquarters.

With the space and resources for adult courses, the question became what subjects to offer and when to offer them. Kissner said the company surveyed the parents of students who have gone through their programs to see what they would be interested in.

Adults, according to the survey, want to learn how to shoot better photos with the DSLR camera they spent big money on and build a personal website on WordPress with a custom theme. They’re interested in programming and 3-D printing. They’re also more results-focused, while Kissner said the curriculum is more intensive for children.

“With adults, they want to learn what they need to know and nothing beyond that,” Kissner said. “So we’re taking the curriculum and focusing more on exactly what they need to know and not bogging it down with things they don’t.”

The DAE has offered private instruction to adults in the past, but this fall is its first with organized courses. The goal is to have at least 20 adults enrolled for the first six weeks.

Kissner said the group will market the new offerings through its community partnerships, as well as through some more adult-focused programming. While the DAE offers meet-ups for the computer game Minecraft and birthday parties to get its name out to a younger audience, it will attempt to draw adults through events like a potential wine-and-design with Photoshop event, Kissner said.

“Just to build some culture around adults being here and not just kids,” Kissner said.

Tuition for the first round of six-week classes is $299 per course. The classes are geared more toward hobbyists than people looking to retrain for a career, Kissner said. But he didn’t rule out that the company could eventually add course offerings geared toward more advanced retraining. He said he will use these initial classes as a litmus test for what the company can offer.

“There’s a lot of places for adults to go now to learn about technology,” Kissner said. “What we’re trying to identify right now is how we fit in best with that. We have the capability of teaching professionals, people that are hobbyists and seniors that are just looking to learn to use their phones better.”

“I’m just interested to see where we can go,” he added.


About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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