Noggin Builders Named Northbrook Business of the Year
Creative problem solving, collaboration, resiliency: essential skills for scientists and for small businesses as well. These are the ultimate learning goals for the educational team at Noggin Builders, and the skills that have fueled the success of Northbrook native Amy Torf’s STEM enrichment programs for kids.
Amy’s professional story has taken twists and turns, but her Northbrook roots played a significant role every step of the way. After graduating from Glenbrook North, Amy studied mechanical engineering, earning her bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois and master’s from Northwestern. She started her career in private industry, eventually bringing her back to Northbrook as a design engineer for Woodhead Industries.
After a few years in the private sector, Amy shifted her professional goals to education. She entered National Louis University’s MAT in Education program, with the goal of becoming a high school physics teacher. Again, her roots in Northbrook directed her path: she did her student teaching rotation at Glenbrook North, where longtime physics teacher and mentor Nate Unterman helped her see the benefits of innovative, experiential science education.
“I realized that a typical lecture-based classroom was not for me,” she remembers. “Nate was on the leading edge of exploratory learning, introducing new ways for students to work and learn together.” That collaborative model, extended to all ages, informed her work as a camp director and eventually became the basis for Noggin Builders.
Launched in 2013, Noggin Builders offers STEM enrichment programs for Pre-K through high school, including classes, camps, and competition teams. Students learn principles of chemistry, physics and other disciplines as they explore problem-solving experiments. At the same time, they gain invaluable lessons in teamwork, methodology, and using setbacks as stepping stones to success. “We’re really focused on helping kids build creative problem solving skills,” explains Amy. “The STEM knowledge is the gravy.”
Increasing demand for program space enabled Noggin Builders to move to a new facility at the end of 2023. Now located at the Sanders Court Shopping Center at Dundee and Sanders, the new space includes four classrooms as well as a workshop. Coming soon, an outdoor STEM exploration area will allow for expanded programs in astronomy, botany, and rocketry.
While building her successful business, Amy has maintained a deep commitment to giving back. She launched the Noggin Builders Foundation in 2019, a 501c3 organization that maintains a full-time teacher and last year delivered over 7600 hours of STEM programming at no cost to schools in low income communities. Additionally, she has served on the Northbrook Plan Commission since 2020, and provides team-building sessions to the Leadership Northbrook program facilitated by the Chamber.
“We are very fortunate to have a business like Noggin Builders in Northbrook,” says Mark Brodson, Resource Commercial Advisers. “Their passion for providing unique methods of educating kids in STEM disciplines gives Noggin Builders’ students a leg up in math and science knowledge. Noggin Builders’ new facility will enable them to provide even more depth of programming, and give them the flexibility to offer a broad range of teaching methods in both indoor and outdoor settings.”