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ChiS&E students showcase their skills at summer enrichment camp

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), which tracks the achievements of fourth-graders, the NEAP math assessment found that 42 percent of fourth-grade students performed at or above proficiency in 2013 in the United States.

The organization — which measures STEM education data by sex, race and ethnicity — found that 43 percent of males compared to 41 percent of females scored at or above proficiency in fourth-grade math. And when factored by race, over half of whites, 54 percent and nearly two-thirds of Asians/Pacific Islanders or 64 percent scored at or above the proficiency level.

However, the group observed a large difference between the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students and the percentages of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Native Alaskan students scoring at the advanced level in math. Twenty-two percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders and 1 percent-3 percent for Blacks, Hispanic and Indian/Native Alaskan respectfully.

Kenneth Hill, founder and executive director of Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program (ChiS&E) understands the reasoning behind the numbers. “When parents expose children at home to math and science at an early age,” the results, he stated, “are statistically significant.”

Inspired in part by a program that exposed K-12 graders to a pre-engineering program that started in Detroit in the mid-70s, Hill saw the need and the potential benefits for a similar program here in Chicago. Founded in 2008, ChiS&E’s mission is to lay a foundation for Black and Latino children — as well as their parents — who are interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

Hill was motivated to help “close the gap between the number of students who graduate high school and are eligible to go to college but aren’t eligible to go into an engineering or science degree.”

Starting at grade levels K-3, the group focuses on capacity building, teaching children the basics of science and technology through age-appropriate hands-on projects. “Engineering is the foundation of problem-solving skills,” he says, and the earlier you start the more likely a student will graduate and go on to earn an engineering degree.

 Making ‘Raspberry PI’

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Shawn Parker & Shawn Parker II at ChiS&E summer camp

The not-for-profit offers STEM classes that are year-round, with this year’s newly added summer enrichment program that showcased student projects at the University of Illinois, just last week. The sixth and seventh-grade pre-engineering students demonstrated to a full house various aspects of the STEM program, including problem-solving using algebraic concepts and skills, coding for music, and even how to make a raspberry pie — tech speak for programming a computer.

The summer weekend classes required parental involvement for each budding engineer, and that worked out perfectly for parents Shawn Parker and Queen Hannon, who both have science degrees. “The program benefited my son by giving him knowledge on how to break things down, and how they work,” Parker stated.

Twelve-year-old Shawn Parker II was eager to share how he participated in “soldering, programming computers, and different algebra activities.”

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Benjamin Rubio & Benjamin Rubio display achievement award

Benjamin Rubio said his son, also named Benjamin Rubio “ benefited by learning more in algebra, and it has increased his interest in becoming an engineer.” These opportunities are very important, he insists, “because when I was growing up they weren’t available to minorities.” He credits the program for opening the doors to the world of engineering.

Latina Taylor, coordinator of the program, stressed how the four-week summer intensive program engaged students not only in the classroom but on field trips as well. On a trip to the Field Museum, “We got a chance to take them to the ancient Egypt exhibit,” she shared. “I want them to understand that engineering has been going on since B.C. Talk about master engineers, we’re talking about the Egyptians. They got to see the tools that were there and they asked a lot of questions.”

Tamela Tucker found out about the free program through her son Tameron Tucker’s school, Medgar Evers Performing Arts School, and praised the organization for exposing her son to “other races and cultures and the college life, which was the most exciting part, being on the U of I campus,” she said.

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Twins Kayla & Alexis Cain beam with delight at ChiS&E camp

When asked about the progress of women and the field of engineering, Hill said, “Demographics have changed in the U.S., and you can’t count on one group as the workforce. [You] have to recognize minorities.”

Edward Cain, the proud father of Kayla and Alexis Cain, couldn’t agree more as his twin daughters expounded on “soldering and learning to calculate the voltage current and resistance of a circuit.” Girls like science, math, and engineering, says Hill, and he hopes that if Hillary Clinton is elected that she’ll continue President Obama’s plan to hire 100,000 more STEM teachers by 2020.

“Women need to be brought into the engineering field to be competitive in the 21st century,” he asserts. For more information, visit ChiS&E’s website at http://www.chiprep.org/

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