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Where Technology & Education Meet
by Matt Makowski
d’Vinci Interactive celebrates 20 years of educational technology development with plenty more to come.
Nestled on the top floor of 28 S. Potomac St. is an unmarked office with a large, wide-open floor plan filled with creative people working to make you, me, and the rest of the world a little smarter and a little savvier. The people occupying this space comprise the team of d’Vinci Interactive — a company that last November celebrated its 20th anniversary of creating educational technology.
They marked their anniversary with an intimate gathering of clients, current and former team members, and partners with whom they work. While there was naturally an air of celebration, the event also served as a goodbye and thank-you to Pat Hellane who briefly managed the company after her husband, founder Vince Hellane, passed away.
Pat successfully ran the company until January of 2013 when she sold it to longtime business friend Luke Kempski, making it a wholly-owned subsidiary of JPL, a creative marketing, communications, and learning solutions agency based in Harrisburg, Pa. After relinquishing ownership, Pat stayed on with d’Vinci for a year and a half in the finance department until last summer. While her departure was bittersweet, the newfound collaborative possibilities with JPL have sparked an increased ability for the company to boost its project capabilities and volume.
JPL’s acquisition of d’Vinci does not signify any possibility for a move for the company, assures Luke Kempski, JPL president and CEO of d’Vinci. “I recognized the strength of the culture, and the client base, and the separate identity — so it would never have made sense to move them up to Harrisburg,” he says. As it stands, their ability to work in a partnership has already been successfully established. “What we have been able to do is when the work exceeds the capacity of this group, or if there’s a special skill or a capability that we need that is in Harrisburg, we overflow it up to JPL. And we’ve effectively collaborated on several projects since the beginning,” says Luke.
Those Humble Beginnings
The company started as a team of two out of the home of the late Vince Hellane, the company’s founder. Almost immediately they began working with the Small Business Administration to get into the Technical Innovation Center (TIC) on the campus of Hagerstown Community College. There the team began to grow as they developed their first project — a computer-based training course for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that was distributed all over the world on a floppy disk.
As technology evolved, so did d’Vinci, leaving behind restrictive formats and moving into the development of far-reaching web-based learning applications for target audiences ranging from K-12 students to physicians. They’ve also expanded into the development of certification management applications.
As d’Vinci flourished into a leader in the designing of technology-driven education tools, they grew out of their space in the TIC and into their current location back in 2010 — with the help of the Partners in Economic Progress Program, which helps pay a portion of the rent for downtown office space. Now comprised of 15 employees with specialties in creative design, programming, project management, and consulting, d’Vinci’s crackerjack staff is juggling around 30 active projects at any given time.
Their extensive list of clients includes the Center on Congress at Indiana University for whom they developed the Teaching with Primary Sources website designed to educate middle school students about government; and National Geographic Education, for whom they developed an interactive learning game to teach students about engineering and other STEM-related topics.
Right now d’Vinci is working on a major project with the National Human Genome Research Institute. “In 2013 an exhibit opened at the Smithsonian Institute of Natural Science that celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the ‘uncovering’ of the human genome. The exhibit was called Unlocking Life’s Code,” Luke says. After being contracted to develop a companion website to the exhibit, d’Vinci has been maintaining and updating it for going on two years. “Now we are working on converting some of the interactive exhibits that were on display and making them online experiences on the website,” Luke explains, which will effectively bring the exhibit to any laptop, tablet, or smartphone in the world that’s connected to the Internet.
With a staff at the highest number it’s ever been, d’Vinci shows no signs of slowing down. “Our goal is to continue to grow right here, and we think that we’re in the right kind of segments where we can grow,” says Luke. They’re currently looking for a Java Script application developer, an eLearning instructional designer, and an account manager, according to Mason Scuderi, d’Vinci chief operating officer.
“The trends are with us in the sense that education and technology are coming together to create new ways to engage students and learners. We think we can be one of the national players — we already are, but we can grow even more so and be one of the leading players as an educational technology company,” Luke says.
The educational module d’Vinci produced for National Geographic Education and Children’s Media, called Ovie’s Engineering Challenge, has three main activities marked by destinations on a world map. The goal is to use physics and math to navigate a National Geographic expedition team of scientists and photographers through an adventure and move on to the next destination. While in Canada, the goal is to help bring new cameras to a photographer, but the player needs to swing the cameras across canyons by figuring out how much force is required to swing them safely across. While in Romania, the research team needs help to properly and evenly load a trailer of cameras, computers, and camping gear. And while in South Africa, the goal is to tag a shark by placing a camera on a great white’s dorsal fin. In each module, players receive an explanation as to why their methods did, or didn’t work. National Geographic has a very specific type of outreach they do with teachers who are involved with the program to see that this sort of program works, says d’Vinci Chief Operating Officer Mason Scuderi. To check out this game, head online and use the keywords “Ovie’s Engineering Challenge.”