Natrona County School District Pathways Innovation Center Students Lead The Way on YMCA Donor Wall Project!

The YMCA of Natrona County has started Phase II of building onto their new facility, including a new pool and youth adventure center. This opportunity for growth has been made possible through generous donations from the Casper community, prompting the YMCA’s interest to create a unique donor wall honoring those who made it possible.

The YMCA’s CEO, Stephanie Disburg, Development Director, Glenda Thomas, and Trustee Member, Tom Brauer, set off on a walk around town to visit other local organizations where they saw notable examples of constructed donor walls. Inspired by what they saw, they knew they wanted something that would genuinely encompass their appreciation to the Casper community with a creative twist.

They didn’t have to look far for the answer. Just past the new facility entrance sits a beautifully constructed donor wall created in partnership with NCSD students in previous years. Looking at it, they knew exactly where to go to find unmatched creativity, energy, ambition, and outside-the-box thinking - students of Natrona County. 

YMCA’s Glenda Thomas and Tom Brauer believed the donor wall project would be a perfect opportunity to partner with Kyle Dye, CTE instructor at Pathways Innovation Center, and his Engineering Graphics II students. 

Pathways Innovation Center (P.I.C.) is an extension of Natrona County’s high school system. Students from NCSD’s high schools can enroll in courses at Pathways Innovation Center that include college–preparatory curriculum, industry certifications, portfolio development, and internships. Experiences within the classrooms are aligned to student interests, focusing on collaborative partnerships with community businesses. Immediately, Mr. Dye knew the project would be a great fit and agreed to bring it to his students to gauge their interest. It was a “go” from the students. They immediately dove into the project, developing ideas for a one-of-a-kind design and high-quality, professional presentation for the YMCA. 

Shai Reynolds, an NCHS student at Pathways Innovation Center, immediately became interested in the research and design portion of the project, "When Mr. Dye told us about the project, we began to research ideas for the project. We came across a photo where the camera was halfway in the water showing fish swimming by and above the water was a mountain scene with a fisherman, and that became our inspiration for the project."


The students excelled in the research, design, and building of the project and presentation. “It is so valuable to be able to give students these real-world experiences. You can see leaders emerging. It’s an incredible experience to have students relate to and work with the community,” shared Glenda Thomas.  


The presentation meeting at the school initially resembled what you would expect of a high school classroom; students were chatting, informal set-up. But when it came time for the presentation, it quickly morphed into a workplace setting with professional energy, astonishing the YMCA staff in attendance. “We wanted to work on this project really hard because it was a real project, not just bookwork. I know we all really liked it," explained student Colter Nichols. Shaking his head in agreement, fellow student William Pollock added, "Working on this project really taught me more about making presentations in a way I don't think I would have learned otherwise." 


Tom Brauer, YMCA Trustee Member, was blown away by the student’s high-quality work and professionalism, “When they first started, you could tell they were a little nervous. But they did an amazing job, and they went through the whole process.” As part of the presentation, the students prepared prototypes so the YMCA representatives could truly see their vision. “They handed us these prototypes of the fish when they started...once we got those fish in our hands, it really pulled us in.”


Like any professional project, there were setbacks and research adjustments the students expertly navigated through for the ultimate project outcome. Early on, we ran into issues with our spray bottles spreading the dye on the metal too thin. The fish didn't look very accurate, and we had to change our process," said Tyler Fuson. Classmate Riddik Shelley further explained, “We went through 3 or 4 different fish designs and at least two different dye techniques trying to make the fish look realistic."


During the presentation, students explained the process they would use moving forward to create the fish’s natural coloration, the materials used, and a comprehensive cost estimate and timeframe for completion. “The powerful thing for Glenda and I, as engineers, is they had cost estimates detailing what a sheet of material would cost; they told us how many fish, small, medium, and large that we could get from each sheet. They were engaged, quick to respond during the presentation, and prepared,” shared Tom. Furthermore, the students’ dedication and quality of effort and care put into the project left a lasting impact, “We were really touched by it, you know, them doing this at this point in their lives is just really good. I’ve been doing this for years, and they truly impressed me as students and professionals. I simply can’t say enough praise about them.” 


Student Riddik Shelley explained the group took the project seriously with a high level of dedication to quality and outcome from day one, "We knew this project might actually be put up in the YMCA, so I think we worked harder on this than we would have just a classroom project since we knew many people might see it."

Through research, design, revisions, and team collaboration, the students presented an exceptional project design accepted, graciously, with resounding appreciation and applause from the YMCA. The final product; a 3-dimensional donor wall honoring the extraordinary beauty of our community. A flowing river rich with various-sized native fish, featuring the names of the project donors, standing out in front of the magnificent backdrop of Casper Mountain. And in true Wyoming style, a fly-fisherman sharing the scene.