At the forefront of impacting underserved communities and youth in Chicago.
A history of more than 20 years and 20,000 students served.
PE is changing the face of STEM.

About Project Exploration

Our Mission

Project Exploration creates transformative learning opportunities for youth underrepresented in the sciences — particularly students of color and girls — by equipping them with the skills, practices, and mindset needed for a lifelong pursuit of learning.

Project Exploration is a Chicago-based nonprofit science education and youth development organization launched in 1999 to address inequities in access to high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) opportunities in out-of-school time. With equity at our core, we serve youth from communities historically underrepresented in STEM fields and recruit students who are curious and interested in science but face systemic challenges to accessing high-quality programs, such as academic prerequisites or program fees. Our programs deeply engage students in authentic STEM experiences, alongside mentors and STEM professionals who serve as role models. Through these programs and relationships, youth develop critical social and emotional skills, such as self-confidence, science identity, collaboration, communication, and leadership abilities.

Annually, Project Exploration serves approximately 700 Chicago Public School youth from kindergarten through 12th grade. With the addition of virtual STEM@home programs introduced in 2020, we are poised to increase the number of students served this year. Of our participants:


of students come from low-income families


identify as female


are African American


are Latino

Our programs have no fees or academic prerequisites; we recruit students who are curious and ambitious but may not have strong academic standing. We offer introductory and exploratory programs virtually and at our West Side STEM Learning Center (SLC), single-gender programs to middle school students at the SLC and partnering school locations, and provide a range of co-ed high school programs to keep students engaged over multiple years.

Since our founding in 1999, we have impacted over 20,000 students from Chicago Public Schools through immersive out of school time (OST) and school break programs in neighborhoods where such opportunities may be limited. As we move into the 2020 school year and beyond, and as technology advances at warp speed, the need for STEM experts to fill the pipelines of STEM careers needs is heightened.

Learn more about PE’s history and approach.

Over 20 Years of Impact

Project Exploration invests in evaluation to deepen our understanding of the impact on the youth we serve. We ask fundamental questions about how our programs impact students’ mindsets, identity, and skills in STEM. Our data reveal a 42% increased interest in science careers, 20% improved participant attitudes toward science, a 20% improved confidence in engineering abilities and a 15% increase in youth development outcomes. We maintain a 77% retention rate and students generally participate in at least two program opportunities.

Learn more about how we’re impacting young people.

PE’s Students

Project Exploration’s programs focus on students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM professions —women and minority groups, in particular — those from economically disadvantaged and underserved communities. Our program design and recruitment aim to engage at-risk youth who are not at the top of their class – students who are inquisitive and ambitious but not engaged by traditional school environments.

Our participants come from low income, single-parent households experiencing higher levels of exposure to trauma, and violence. Many of our participants report that if they were not in our program, they would be at home unsupervised and likely in charge of younger siblings after school. Historically, we serve 85% of girls and 80% African-Americans. The communities areas our programs serve are Austin, Bronzeville, Kenwood, East Garfield Park, Gage Park, Douglas, Lower West Side, Near West Side, and Back of the Yards.

With a 20 year history and extensive alumni network, we are proud to be able to share stories from students who can speak to the impact of PE in their lives.

Meet some of our students.

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