Our Students

Project Exploration serves approximately 700 students from kindergarten through 12th grade annually with free, high-quality STEM programs. We believe in helping young people bridge the gap to opportunities they might not otherwise have exposure to or be able to access. We achieve this by engaging students in authentic and meaningful work alongside STEM professionals, with students at the center of everything we do.

Graduates of Project Exploration programs get – and stay – involved with science, graduate in impressive numbers from high school and college, and pursue professions in science, engineering and math. For us, however, the most important lesson from this research is that OST science programs, which put youth at the center of high-caliber science experiences alongside scientists, can fundamentally change access to wider academic and economic opportunities for entire communities of students who are usually written off by traditional science education strategies.

Below are profiles of four former Project Exploration students:

Hope Jernigan

Enrolled: 2008 – 2013
Programs: Sisters4Science, Science Giants, Junior Biocurator, Forensics

In addition to participating in numerous programs as a student over the years, Hope continues to be a stellar spokesperson for PE, speaking at events for scientists and donors about her experience. Now a student at UIC, her future plans include studying public health, getting her law degree, and becoming a U.S. Senator.

“In seventh grade my science teacher, Ms. Metcalfe, offered extra credit to girls who joined and actively participated in Sisters4Science. Since I wanted to raise my grade from a B to an A, I figured that I would join the club.

My favorite memories from my time with PE are probably when I have spoken at events on my Sisters4Science experiences. It is a pretty awesome experience to be in the same room with other Sisters from different campuses, all there with the same interest at heart.

Many of my interests and life goals were shaped because of my experiences with Project Exploration. Because of Project Exploration I developed passions in the fields of education, STEM, and public service.

Project Exploration is literally one of a kind. Throughout all of the staff changes and challenges PE has faced, the goal of “bringing science to minority youth and girls” has stayed the same, and continues to foster a “family” environment. For that I am forever grateful.”

Justice Peoples

Enrolled: 2009-2012
Programs: Junior Paleontologist (twice), Forensic Investigators, Dinosaur Giants, MACH 10, Dinosaur Expedition

Initially attracted to PE because of his interest in archaeology, Justice learned so much more over the course of his four years with us. With his focused demeanor and and friendly smile, his role as a student leader helped welcome many other young people into the PE family. Now a student at the College of Wooster, he hopes to someday open a community center to help curb youth violence.

“I got inspired to participate in Project Exploration because at the time, I wanted to become an archaeologist. I felt like this program would definitely help me with goal and would expose me to new opportunities in my life, which it did.

Project Exploration has definitely made a huge impact on my life. I was able to go to places like South Dakota and Wyoming, places where I would probably never have been able to go to without them. It helped me learn how to work with others better, especially younger kids, and it allowed me to learn new things. Because of Project Exploration, I still know how to dig up a fossil, how an airplane works, what type of evidences works in a criminal case, as well as all the fossils that are in the ground of the Field Museum.

There are so many memories that I hold dear. Memories like finding dinosaurs bones, taking hikes, or the look on the children’s faces whenever they discover something. If I had to choose one, my favorite memory would have to be looking at the stars on top of the black hills of South Dakota. It is my favorite because I had never seen that many starts out at once, even to this day whenever I look up at the sky, I only see one or two. But in South Dakota, I could see everything – constellations, shooting stars, even red bolts of lighting in the distance. It was truly a beautiful sight.

PE was and is a great program. It changed my life and I hope that it will continue to change many others’. I will always be grateful to PE and will always do whatever I can for the organization.”

Elena Schroeter

Enrolled: 2000-2013
Programs: Dinosaur Giants, Junior Paleontologist, SuperCroc Delegation

Elena Schroeter has been an important member of the PE family since 2000, joining us as a student and then working as a youth coordinator from 2003-2008. In 2013, we were fortunate to welcome her back as the coordinator of our summer programs. Now, Dr. Schroeter studies the preservation of biomolecules and proteins in bones over 65 million years old, and continues to share her passion for science with the next generation of future scientists.

“Since I was 5-years old, I dreamed of going on amazing adventures to strange lands and digging up fossils of bizarre creatures, but it wasn’t until I got involved with PE that I saw a way to actually make that happen. I still remember that first dinosaur bone I found with PE way back in 2001 – it was part of a triceratops frill. That experience is what put me on my path to becoming a paleontologist. The skills I gained at Project Exploration helped me as a student and as a teacher, and really helped me get through my doctoral research. I hope that my research can inspire young people the way Project Exploration once inspired me.”

Eugenia Ruiz

Enrolled: 2008-2018
Programs: Science Giants, Junior Paleontologist, Dinosaur Expedition, Fossil Lab Intern, Sisters4Science (as STEM Facilitator)

With experience in five different programs as a student and facilitator, Eugenia exemplifies PE’s goal of maintaining long-term relationships with youth. Currently studying anthropology at DePaul University, she works part-time as a STEM facilitator in Sisters4Science, where students and fellow facilitators benefit from her experience and compassionate attitude.

“My sister, Carleen, was the first to get started in Project Exploration. Once I saw how much fun and all the opportunities she had within Project Exploration, I knew that I would love to join their programs once I was older.

If it wasn’t for Project Exploration, I probably would barely be declaring a major. Once I figured out that I loved being in a research lab and working with artifacts, I knew that I had to do something similar to that. Since I was fascinated with the human body, it was easy to decide that anthropology would be the one for me.

My favorite memory from my time with PE would be when I was in the Junior Paleontologist program. We were already in South Dakota and on our night hike. We reached the top of a little hill and Mikki passed out small pieces of candy to everyone. They were the small, white mints that came in a package. When everyone’s eyes were adjusted to the dark, we chewed on the mints in front of each other. Right before our very eyes, we saw sparks come out of our mouths. That was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I can never forget that night.

Project Exploration has been such a great experience, even from the start. I saw how much it changed my sister’s life and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that as well. PE will always have a special place in my heart.”

Read more student stories and testimonials in our 10 Year Retrospective Program Evaluation Summative Report. Short on time? Read the Executive Summary.

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