Our Story

How FUSE Started

Challenges level up like video games, starting with an easy and quick level one experience.

With initial funding from the MacArthur Foundation, we piloted FUSE Studios in public libraries, summer camps, and afterschool clubs in and around Chicago during 2011. Led by Northwestern University Learning Sciences Professor Reed Stevens, FUSE was initially designed with the expectation that it would be implemented in various out-of-school contexts, but with hopes it might also find a home in schools. The design principles of the FUSE approach are rooted in prior ethnographic studies by Professor Stevens and other researchers on alternatives to the traditional classroom model for how to organize creative and compelling learning environments. Despite no marketing effort to schools, word-of-mouth about FUSE’s potential to provide students with new, engaging learning experiences led to gradually increasing interest in bringing FUSE into schools. Starting in September 2013, implementation of FUSE in schools began in partnership with Schaumburg District 54, the largest K-8 school district in Illinois. This district, along with many others, now implements FUSE as part of their school day curriculum.

Adoption has spread beyond the Chicago area to include elementary, middle, and high schools in 18 states and in Helsinki, Finland. In the 19-20 school year we expect over 26,000 students to take a FUSE class at one of the almost 200 schools implementing the program.


Students develop new expertise collaborating on FUSE challenges in this NGSS aligned high school Science elective.

The FUSE program and its impact on youth, educators, and educational institutions is continually being studied by our research team. We study how the learning cultures of different FUSE studios emerge and develop over time. Through broad ethnographic methods (e.g., long-term studio observations, interviews, and website activity), our research investigates topic such as:

  • what and how students learn in FUSE studios
  • how FUSE impacts students’ interests in STEAM disciplines and fields
  • the different ways students learn with and from other students
  • the new roles that teachers play in FUSE classrooms
  • how students develop 21st-century skills in FUSE
  • the different ways students extend and go beyond FUSE challenges, during and after FUSE

We have also begun to study the different ways in which teachers adopt and adapt the FUSE program to fit their local needs and goals and how these adaptations influence student learning and experience. Given the rapid expansion of FUSE, we are also studying the conditions that influence how FUSE as an educational innovation is spreading and taking root in schools across the US.

Here are select publications detailing our research findings on FUSE:


Reed Stevens
Principal Investigator

Kay Ramey
Post-Doctoral Researcher

Jaakko Hilppo
Post-Doctoral Researcher


Lizzie Perkins
Program Director

Gabi Nelson
Digital Media Producer

James Freetly
Program Coordinator

Cortney Crego
Program Coordinator

Anne Hayden Stevens
Creative Director

Colin Sheaff
Senior Software Developer

General Inquiries about Studios


FUSE Media


FUSE in the News

Siemens awards STEAM grants to schools across the country—including South Valley Junior High School in Phoenix, AZ— to encourage and nurture curiosity and exploration in our world.

This interactive learning lab shows the future of education and these Manual Academy students are ahead of the tech-curve By Melissa Rose. A group of students at Manual Academy in Peoria are a part of something special.

CompTIA Mentors Help Kids Dabble in Design and Technology By Michelle Lange. A physics challenge called Coaster Boss has taken over Ms. Kelly’s computer technology classroom. Eighth grade students created a roller coaster track of black foam and colorful rubber tubes, and taped it from ceiling to floor in a goofy loop around the room.

FUSE Studio inspires STEM learning at Manual Academy By Pam Adams. Jakayla Wright steps back and looks at the small windmill she just built. It’s supposed to use wind energy to lift a small bucket. But the windmill is hardly turning, much less generating wind energy. “I can tell you what I did wrong,” she tells teacher Greg Gilson, then begins to correct her mistake.

At Northwestern, researchers 'FUSE' fun challenges with STEAM learning: BTN LiveBNIG By John Tolley, If you weren’t the biggest fan of your grade school science and math courses, rest-assured you were not alone.

The case for shop class: How vocational schools and gap years can help ease academic anxiety. By Karen Ann Cullotta, Karen Berkowitz, Kimberly Fornek and Suzanne BakerContact Reporters Pioneer Press. When New Trier High School student Ben Matejka got his results from the ACT, he was pleased with his score of 27, comfortably above the national average of about 21. But when Ben told his friends, some of their responses took him aback. He got condolences.

The Common Denominator Between Sesame Street and the Internet? Learning. By Sana N. Jafri. Elmo, Big Bird, and the other residents of Sesame Street remain household names, even after 40-plus years on the air. Several weeks ago I watched an episode of "Sesame Street" with my niece, Aisha, and I was reminded that this prolific television program offers vital learning opportunities for kids.

THE FUSE PHENOMENON By Julianne Beck. Education is “leveling up” in FUSE studios from Chicago to Helsinki, encouraging students to drive their own learning and create their own solutions. Through carefully developed computer-based and hands-on challenges, from building a model roller coaster to designing and printing a 3-D keychain, participants are learning by creating, collaborating and innovating.

Recent Press


p> 06.29.21 FUSE Studios Expands to Southern California(Northwestern School of Education & Social Policy)

02.21.21 Lighting a FUSE at Union Middle: Smithfield, Northwestern University provides STEAM grant (The Samson Independent)

10.9.19 Golfview Elementary Magnet School Implementing STEAM Into Their Curriculum (Space Coast Daily)

4.29.19 Smithfield Foods Makes Sizable Donation to Support STEAM Education in Rural Communities (3BL Media)

12.18.18 Lehigh middle students learn to power mini go-karts, use 3D printers, model dream homes (Fort Meyers News-Press)

11.06.18 FUSE for STEM Learning and Interest Development: An Interview with Reed Stevens (CIRCL: The Center for Innovative Research on Cyber Learning)

8.15.18 Madison Middle Hosts Ribbon Cutting for First Boeing Funded FUSE Studio in Titusville | (Space Coast Daily, FL)

3.22.18 12 Schools Selected for New FUSE Studios with CompTIA-Funded Tech Activities for Students (CompTIA)

3.20.18 Learning Best Through Tinkering, Imagination, Creativity, and Invention Through FUSE Studios (CompTIA)

2.21.18 CompTIA Funding 10 Additional FUSE Studios for STEAM Education in Schools (CompTIA)

2.08.18 Boeing Awards Grant for STEAM Initiatives to Brevard Schools Foundation (Brevard Schools Foundation, Brevard, FL)

2.08.18 Boeing Awards Grant for STEAM Initiatives (Hometown News, Brevard, FL)

2.08.18 FUSE Challenges Evanston Sixth Graders (SESP, NU)

1.10.18 At Northwestern, researchers 'FUSE' fun challenges with STEAM learning (Big Ten Network)

12.29.17 FUSE Studio inspires STEM learning at Peoria school (Seattle Times)

11.15.17 The Case for Shop Class: How Vocational schools and gap years can help ease academic anxiety (Chicago Tribune)

11.09.17 < a target="_blank"href="https://theislandnow.com/community-news/floral-park-fuse-lab-encourages-innovation/">Floral Park FUSE lab encourages innovation (The Island Now)

09.20.17 FUSE Studios Expand to 23 New Schools (SESP News, Northwestern University)

5.31.17 Manual Academy selected for 'Limousine Level' Learning Lab  (Peoria Journal Star)

5.25.17 The Common Denominator between Sesame Street and the Internet? Learning. (Edweek Blog)

3.17.17 21 Schools Selected for New FUSE Studios with CompTIA-Funded Tech Activities for Students

3.11.17 Highland Park High School Unveils '21st Century Learning' Renovations (Daily North Shore)

1.11.17 CompTIA Partners with FUSE at Northwestern U to Expand STEAM Education in 21 Schools

Fall 2016: The FUSE Phenomenon. (Inquiry Magazine, Northwestern School of Education & Social Policy) 

10.01.16 Finnish Educators call FUSE an 'Inspiration" (SESP News)

9.6.16 Finnish Educators seek closer look at FUSE Program (SESP News)

4.20.16  CPS Military Academy receives FUSE grant for 2016-17 school year

11.30.15 - Clark County students explore interests with FUSE (Springfield News-Sun)

11.30.15 - Local jewelry designer creates FUSE challenge (Northwestern News)

9.13.2015 - District 54 STEM coach shares enthusiasm for problem-solving with students, teachers

8.26.15 - Game to Learn (Evanston RoundTable)

4.15.15 - Gardiner students try their hands at solar and wind power

12.20.14 - New classes at District 47 aim to expose kids to science, tech fields

Our Partners

FUSE has diverse program design, implementation, and funding partners. These partners provide STEAM expertise, support, and feedback that help to improve the program and expand its reach to more students.

Siemens has supported development of three challenges with FUSE: Solar Roller, Wind Commander, and Smart Castle.


Funding partners help FUSE reach high need populations and schools in targeted communities. The Nellie Mae Foundation, Smithfield Foods, Boeing, Creating IT Futures, CompTIA, The MacArthur Foundation, Hive Chicago, Siemens Industries Inc., IBM, and Motorola Mobility have all funded FUSE. Schools are funded in Chicago by The Boeing Corporation. Schools are also funded by Siemens and the Nellie Mae Foundation. FUSE has also been funded by the MacArthur Foundation and Hive Chicago.


FUSE research, program design and staff are generously supported by grants from the National Science Foundation under NSF grants DRL-1348800 and DRL-1433724. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Smithfield logoNSF logoNMEF logoComptia logoBoeing logo
Siemens logo Motorola logo Creating IT Futures logoHive logoMacFound logo

Contact Us

If you are interested in getting started with the FUSE program, fill out this form and our director will get back to you shortly.

If you are a current FUSE school and have a question about your studio or materials, please email nelson@fusestudio.net.
If you are a current FUSE school and have a billing question, please email james@fusestudio.net.

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