In 2009, President Obama set out to increase the quality of science, technology, engineering and math education in U.S. schools through the “Educate to Innovate” initiative. For Sheldon Laboratory Systems, it symbolized that the country has finally caught up to what this company already knows.
“We know it, and the teachers know it – more has to be done with math and science,” says Sheldon Labs President Eddie Adkins. “I was in San Francisco [in March] at the National Science Teacher’s Association, and every teacher I talked to said there is new life being breathed into science and math education.”
As educators and the government diligently work toward this goal, Adkins says Sheldon Labs passionately joins in the task by manufacturing products that help present math and science in a relevant and progressive manner to today’s students.
It has played this role since 1898 when E.H. Sheldon, a 27-year-old schoolteacher, invented the rapid-acting woodworking vise to help teach his manual training class. As manual training became more widely available in classrooms, Sheldon began producing a line of workbenches to accompany the vises. Since then, the company has been a designer and manufacturer of laboratory furnishings. It manufactures for university, college and professional labs, and also has a full line of products for art, music and family sciences, but its mainstay is in K-12 math and science classrooms.
“We take care of the end-user by building good, flexible classroom furnishings that will last forever,” Adkins says. To take care of the end-user, Sheldon Labs first commits to understanding its needs. According to Adkins, it involves more than a list of room dimensions and knowing which subject is being taught. Each year, the company invites 300 to 400 people to tour the plant. It is after talking to these visitors – mostly architects and teachers – that Sheldon then designs a space that will fit individual needs, engage students and provide a safe environment. Through a calculated risk, Sheldon Labs offers its designing and layout expertise at no cost, allowing the company to develop a client’s trust.
Adkins says Sheldon Labs develops products using a three-prong formula: flexible, safe and equal access. By flexible, Adkins means creating a hands-on, multipurpose environment that can be adjusted for specific needs. Many student and teacher desks are available with wheels or are height-adjustable. Products such as the Portable Discovery Center and the Math/Science Discovery Center have write-on tabletops imprinted with rulers, grids and other science and math functions so students can record and wipe away data.
For safety, the company includes components such as sinks and eyewash stations to readily wash away harmful chemicals. The layouts are designed for safety purposes, but also for easy accessibility for all students and teachers. “If a student is in a wheelchair for instance, we don’t want them inhibited to a station in the back of the room,” Adkins says.
With these factors in mind, the company regularly introduces new or evolves old products to today’s needs. “Our real specialty is the fact we are not a catalog company,” Adkins says. “We have a catalog of products, but our expertise is using these products in such a way to make every lab space unique, efficient and useful for the teacher. Our engineering and design team will specialize products for each room.”
For instance, as use of projectors and computers become more integrated into classroom teaching, educators may find Sheldon Lab’s Infinity Teacher’s Demo Desk helpful. The top of the desk raises and lowers from sitting to standing heights. This allows enough clearance for students to see a smartboard, while giving the teacher the ability to raise the desk for a demonstration.
“We build a different kind of product,” Adkins says.
“Many people build boxes and cabinets along the wall, but we build products with the teacher in mind.”