Preparing children for potential careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is what educators strive to do, but some children, particularly children of color, lag behind their white peers in those subject areas, said Kenneth Hill, founder of the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program.
Hill is attempting to address that disparity. He started the STEM focused youth program, ChiS&E, in Chicago in 2008, he said because there was a need to expose more Blacks and Latinos to those disciplines outside of the classroom.
According to a 2011 report issued by the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration, whites make up the largest group of STEM workers. They account for
seven out of 10 workers in those jobs. The report, the third in its series, showed that educational equality is the possible solution to eliminating the disparity.
“The data shows that when you start earlier, students have a higher rate of retention in science and engineering areas,” said Hill.
He co-founded the first program in Detroit in 1976, where he led it for more than 28 years. For an entire month this past summer, 5th grade students studied math with professors from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago. A year before that, fourth grade participants competed in a bridge construction competition in the structural engineering track at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Hill said one of the reasons his program has been so successful is because of the parent and teacher engagement during the hands-on learning activities with the teachers. The responsibility is not solely on the instructor with this approach. ChiS&E partners with the Chicago Public Schools and targets K-5th grade students from underserved communities on the South and West Side. The ultimate goal is to work with all academic levels. If parents would like to enroll their child or children into the free program they can visit the website to inquire more information.
The program incorporates technology in its activities for both parents and students. They learn how to shoot video and edit so that they can capture the activities to share later on with their classroom or family.
Youth from seven different schools meet on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Hill said that in some cases, the parents don’t fully understand what a career in engineering consists of so this program benefits them too.
“By participating with their child they are learning about different engineering careers they might not have know about,” he said. “Many of our children don’t have relatives who are engineers.”
Hill said other benefits of the program include improvement in the child’s social and emotional stability. It also benefits the child to have the parent with them during the learning process because they receive support, Hill said.
“They get the concept immediately, which is different from what they might get in class,” he said. “If they don’t get a concept then they won’t always ask questions, but in this situation they can.”
The program is funded through grants. It was recently awarded a three-year $450,000 grant from the W.K Kellogg Foundation. More than 1,000 applicants applied and ChiS&E was one of 30 to receive it. More funds are always needed, which is why there will be a fundraiser Thursday, Sept. 11. The event’s theme is “Developing Tomorrow’s Engineers.” It will be at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 750 S. Halsted St. from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
In the spring there were more than 200 children. Hill said the goal is to have twice that size this fall.