Jyoti Patel’s son was in fourth grade when his Lego robotics teams won the Peoria and state championships and placed second in national competition.
“When he came to me holding the cup that the team won at nationals, he said, ‘I’m in fourth grade and I won this. There are so many kids in my class who don’t know about (robotics). How do we share this?’ He provided me the spark,” Patel said.
The “spark,” as Patel calls it, ignited something in her that had been simmering for years – sharing her passion for teaching computer science.
Patel opened up her house and began coaching robotics to six kids, which turned into 12 and then 20. From those early beginnings, iSTEAM Studio was born. The now-thriving company — the “i” in the name stands for inspiring, while the rest is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics — transitioned from her family’s basement to a local church, then to a brick-and-mortar location in north Peoria in 2018.
iSTEAM Studio is recognized as the 2022 Small Business of the Year by Bradley University’s Turner Center. Patel sought out the guidance of the center in opening her tutoring facility for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
In the beginning
Patel is well-versed in multiple computer languages. She served as a software development team leader at Caterpillar, Inc. for over a decade. But her interest in teaching got its start while still living in India. She taught computer science to adults in India and started her own computer science institute, ultimately expanding to include four franchisees.
She came to the United States in 2002 to pursue a master’s degree through General Electric (GE). Following her time with GE, Patel’s journey eventually brought her to Peoria and Caterpillar where her husband, Jigar, joined her. Their son, Advait, was born soon thereafter.
As her career flourished, she couldn’t ignore her passion for teaching.
“I was always teaching in my home – anything – whether it was breathing techniques or yoga,” she said. “Teaching is just a real passion I have.”
When Advait was in third grade and started getting involved in robotics, Patel began coaching younger children in their home.
“We had Legos everywhere. These big totes of them. We decided it was time to move to the church and started classes there one day a week,” she said.
Patel left Caterpillar in 2015 before returning as a consultant in 2016-2017, but “in the meantime I was always dreaming about iSTEAM Studio,” she said.
Patel knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children by opening up the world of technology and computer science in a way that would foster their curiosity and creativity, all while making it fun.
Finding a building
iSTEAM Studio opened at 7327 N. Radnor Road in June 2018 with an enrollment of 20 kids. It started with coaching robotics, then Patel added coding. She customized her offerings to the needs of the students. Word of mouth soon had enrollment growing and Patel adding to the curriculum.
Today, iSTEAM Studio has about 100 students. The wide variety of courses and in-depth curriculum is for all ages, beginning at 5 years old.
Classes are available in robotics, computer science, game design and more. Kids can learn about circuit design, 3D modeling and printing, coding, mobile web app building and a range of digital arts. iSTEAM Studio also prepares individuals and teams to compete in the American Computer Science League, the Technovation Challenge for Girls, FIRST Lego League and the Cyber Robotics Challenge. iSTEAM Studio also hosts a variety of morning, afternoon and all-day camps, Mathcounts coaching and SAT preparation, special topical workshops and even technology-themed birthday parties.
The main goal is to help children gain confidence and critical thinking skills as they solve problems and complete projects. Classes are offered both in-person – individually or in groups up to six – and online in larger groups.
Like educators everywhere, Patel had to pivot during the pandemic. She quickly directed her company through COVID’s challenges by reducing her maximum in-person class sizes and adding to the course selections offered virtually, the latter even replacing their traditional summer camps.
Continuing to inspire
Patel continues to grow, adding more instructors and delivering iSTEAM classes to students in at least eight other states.
The nomination for Small Business of the Year states, “We are very proud of this woman-owned company that is thriving during adversity, and really demonstrates the qualities of an outstanding small business which also gives back to the community.”
“I’m excited we were nominated,” said Patel. “The recognition will bring us in front of other people. It’s an opportunity to tell people how much we have to offer.”
The son who sparked all of this, Advait, is now 18 years old and began his freshman year studying computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign last month.
“I knew I wanted to do this,” Patel said, “but my son became my inspiration.”