Inspire STEM for the Future!  Project Exploration’s First Annual Black History Celebration

Project Exploration’s West Side STEM Learning Center (SLC) hosted its first annual Black History Month celebration. Inspire STEM for our Future, offered students, their families, and other members of the community the chance to experience the learning opportunities provided at the SLC. The SLC serves as a regional anchor for high-quality STEM OST learning opportunities, providing free and accessible STEM learning hub for West Side youth, and families. The SLC aims to amplify the value of STEM learning in the community, and strengthen community cohesion through family programming, and bring citywide STEM resources and programs to the local community. Project Exploration hosts family and community engagement opportunities to build a community for our participants and their families. 

Inspire STEM for the Future!

PE leveraged partners to recruit STEM professionals for our first Black History Celebration. We were thrilled to have a great showing of amazing black STEM professionals attend to share their personal stories of their journeys to careers in STEM. When students and families arrived at the SLC, they signed in and received their schedule to rotate from room to room, experiencing a range of hands-on activities from Coding, Engineering, Lab Research, and more. Families and Community Members enjoyed refreshments and networking with one another. 

Let’s meet the Women in STEM!

Board member Deborah Williams introduced us to Ashlie Stapleton from Power Construction Company. Power Construction Company is a 94-year old family and management-owned firm that is focused primarily on the greater Chicago metro area. Power’s leaders are not afraid to get their boots muddy. Whether they’re in the office or the field, they take a hands-on approach with every project. Their hands-on approach was apparent with our visit from Ashlie. She is a Project Manager in the K-12 markets at Power Construction Company, and she introduced students to their “Building Your Future” project, using marshmallows, notecards, toothpicks, and ink pens. Students were allowed to write something about their future on index cards. They were able to work individually and a group to encourage collaboration on what methods worked best to build a structure. Students created towers using their provided materials. 

Tiffany D Lewis-Collins Clinical Research Coordinator at Rush University Medical Center for the Office of Research Affairs. As a lover of the human body and fascinated with various scientific disciplines, Tiffany found her niche in Clinical Research. Pursuing Clinical Research satisfied her love of patient interaction, health maintenance, and promotion. It also fulfilled her passion for science by participating in Clinical Research Trials for new medicines and biomedical devices that may one day lead to an established FDA approved new therapy. During the celebration, she had families to explore Lab Research by working with families on a variety of pipetting activities. Tiffany expressed her enjoyment with volunteering and working with youth. 

Paige Williams a nurse in the Endoscopy Lab at Rush University Medical Center.  She is currently a part-time student to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Executive Director, Natasha Smith-Walker met Paige while on a recent visit and introduced her to our work. She recruited Paige to become a STEM mentor for our students, especially our girls. There is a significant shortage of women and individuals from minority backgrounds in STEM fields. Paige introduced students and families to activities and conversations about germs, diseases, and hygiene. 

Metropolitan Water Reclamation Department has partnered with Project Exploration for a couple of years, initially introducing our high school participants to their facilities through field trips. The MWRD is a special-purpose government agency responsible for wastewater treatment and stormwater management for residents and businesses in Cook County. Each year Rebecca participates in numerous events and school presentations throughout Cook County as a community educator and ambassador on behalf of the MWRD, informing the public on how they can protect the water environment. We were pleased to have Rebecca Woolley Public Affairs Specialist with a focus on Community Education expose students to the field of water environment and conservation. She led an activity that taught kids about water treatment and conservation.  

PE recently started a partnership with the University of Illinois Extension, the flagship outreach effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offering educational programs. Through this partnership, we were introduced to Courtnye Nicole Jackson from University Illinois’s School of Animal Science. We learned through our partnership with the Chicago City of Learning that young people in the Austin community are interested in becoming veterinarians and want to learn more about animals. Having Courtney participate was a great way to begin to introduce our students to these fields.

STEM Mentors Matter

Having STEM mentors that reflect the population of students we serve is invaluable. Mentorship is one of the best ways to support students in exploring and pursuing STEM careers (5 Reasons Why STEM Mentorship Is Important). Research suggests that Exposing Students to STEM Topics, Providing a Platform to Develop Interest, Fostering Personal Growth, Encouraging Inclusion, and Building a Pipeline of Mentors will support ongoing engagement in STEM,

Tiffany Lewis-Collin, Clinical Research Coordinator at Rush University Medical Center, said, “This was my first time presenting research to children and their parents in the community. It was such a fun and rewarding experience to interact with the community on that level, and I would definitely do it again!” 

What is the takeaway? Family and Community Engagement at the West Side STEM Learning Center aims to build opportunities for exposure, so our students and their families have access to STEM Learning. We must find ways and opportunities for our students to experience STEM in everyday life. We seek companies and corporations to share their careers while giving our youth and families a look into the future. We were excited to host our first annual Black History Month celebration with some fantastic Black STEM Professionals as they shared an evening of conversation and hands-on STEM learning with youth and community members. 

Thank you to our participants Power Construction Company (Ashlie Stapleton), RUSH Education and Career Hub (Tiffany D Lewis-Collins), Rush Medical Center (Paige Williams), Metropolitan Water Reclamation Department (Rebecca Wooley), and University Illinois School of Animal Science ( Courtnye Nicole Jackson).PE hopes to strengthen and expand our connections to students, families, and community members by continuing to offer STEM programming beyond the classroom. Subscribe to our newsletter to follow Project Exploration and learn more about local events and programs.

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