Partner Organizations are selected as based on our needs assessment that included a review of research on what factors makes these programs work best for girls, minorities and low-income students.
Not all of our Partner Organizations, however, look the same. Some may prioritize student mentoring, technical training, or community service. Some of our Partner Organizations may give attention to all three areas.
Yet, every Partner Organization provides a unique set of services that help us meet our mission.
Project Exploration (PE) is a nationally recognized science education and youth development organization that strives to ensure every Chicago student becomes STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) literate, promotes a diversified STEM workforce in Chicago and works to mitigate the poverty that pervades Chicago’s STEM deserts. PE uses STEM education to address challenges to equity, access, and opportunity in public and higher education and the professional STEM world. PE makes STEM education accessible through (1) Out-of-school time programs that empower and mentor underrepresented minority youth and (2) Community-building connections for schools, students and families through leadership in the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (STEM Co-op).
Founded in 1999 as a social justice response to the lack of diversity in STEM fields, PE serves middle and high-school youth from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in student centered, small group settings. Project Exploration celebrates 18 years of providing STEM out-of-school time (OST) programming to over 12,000 minority youth and focuses on equity by ensuring recruitment efforts target students who are underrepresented in science. Through its Youth-Science Pathway (YSP) programs, Project Exploration provides science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content, taught by STEM Facilitators (program instructors), who are engaged in a STEM discipline. Project Exploration programs value students being known as individuals. To keep students engaged in learning during out-of-school time, emphasis is placed on what they like and what they are curious about.
Project Exploration’s 10-year study, “Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Changing the Face of Science”, evaluated the impact of Youth-Science Pathway (YSP) programs. YSP is Project Exploration’s innovative OST learning model for urban youth. The results of this study played a central role in refining YSP programs, ultimately improving youth’s education and impacting their career decisions. This evaluation, coupled with additional research from the report, have been constant hallmarks of YSP programs. All programs are student centered, provide authentic STEM activities and have students work with STEM Professionals. These experiences fundamentally change access for underserved students to wider academic and economic opportunities. Project Exploration, a science education nonprofit that in 2009 received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics, Science and Engineering Mentoring from the White House and was named a national model for leveling the playing field in science in 2010 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Project Exploration serves middle and high-school youth from Chicago Public Schools, with a focus on students who are historically underrepresented in science professions—women and minority groups, in particular those from low-income backgrounds. Project Exploration partners with community-based organizations or after school intermediary staff, teachers and school administrators to identify students who are inquisitive and ambitious, but not engaged by traditional education and have varying degrees of interest in science. Students are primarily, but not exclusively, in 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grade. Nearly 95% of Project Exploration students come from low-income families; 48% are Latino and 50% are African American; 83% are female.
Along with YSP programs, Project Exploration leads the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (STEM Co-op). The STEM Co-op is a collective impact collaborative focused on STEM education. In 2011, Project Exploration convened a leadership team of stakeholders from across Chicago’s youth development and STEM funder communities to wrestle with critical questions about access and equity in STEM OST programming: Who is being served and who is not? How many opportunities are available, where and when, and what content is being offered? How can organizations cooperate to keep young people involved with STEM? To help answer these critical questions, this leadership team launched a survey in 2012 to understand the landscape of STEM OST programming in Chicago.
Project Explorations’ innovative Youth-Science Pathway programs leverage out-of-school time to provide access to STEM education for students who may not be engaged by traditional schooling. Along with mastering content, learning science involves proficiency in the skills of scientific inquiry. Opportunities to discover something new, explore various aspects of it, and pursue a specific question are hallmarks of the inquiry process. The majority of Project Exploration programs are aimed at introducing students to science and sparking interest in different STEM topics. Project Exploration intentionally engages youth who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM education to build their competency and interest. YSP programs are student-centered, allowing students to bring their curiosity and experiences to programs and to participate in shaping curriculum based on their interests. Regardless of their location, duration, or subject matter all Project Exploration experiences adhere to core values and design principles:
Equity: Recruitment efforts focus on students who are underrepresented in science, working with teachers and administrators to attract students looking for a spark to help them identify and develop their own identity, interests, and talents; not those who have already been labeled “high achiever.”
Students at the Center: Students are known as individuals, with emphasis placed on what they like and what they are curious about. Curriculum is co-created with students, based on their interests. Content is taught primarily by STEM Facilitators and STEM Professionals. Activities and materials are designed with a focus on hands-on learning, making science accessible for all students, particularly those who may not be academically successful.
Access to Experts: Content is taught by STEM Facilitators. Project Exploration’s corps of STEM Facilitators are college age students pursuing a degree in a STEM related field. To shape program experiences around authentic science, Project Exploration recruits STEM Professionals to conduct real experiments and discuss their career paths. Youth participants build social capital through relationships with passionate STEM Professionals who, like them, are driven by curiosity.
A Strong Culture of Real Science: Recognizable anchor activities shared across programs help establish the organization’s program culture. Students engage in meaningful work that typically includes communication and community building through journaling about their experiences, reflections, and questions, and a culminating event in which students share their discoveries with peers and family. After two years of rigorous program evaluation, Project Exploration is adjusting the schedule of its middle school programming to include more training about the Nature of Science, so when STEM Facilitators are teaching a class, the students are more in tune with the steps of the process.
Meaningful Work: In each program, students work toward a culminating public project that is presented to peers, family and staff. Experiences across programs are interconnected to encourage long-term involvement with STEM and the Project Exploration community.
Project Exploration’s YSP programs take many shapes, ranging from yearlong after school programs, to day long conferences, to summer internships. PE nurtures student’s natural curiosity by bringing STEM programs to those who don't have the opportunity to explore science. YSP programs build skills incrementally to advance students’ conceptual understanding, beginning with engagement in entry programs and working towards mastery in advanced programs. As the organization evolves, Project Exploration continues to incorporate education best practices into all program areas. Organized around three phases of scientific inquiry (Discover, Explore, and Pursue), YSP programs are a set of fluid, nonlinear programs that reflect students’ emerging skills, curiosity, and ambition; and encourages them to take ownership of their learning, become active members of the scientific community, and invest in a lifelong practice of inquiry.
Examples of Discover Program include:
Project Exploration’s longest standing and most successful program provides middle school girls a girls-only environment to explore science with female STEM Facilitators who are engaged in a STEM discipline academically. S4S seeks to positively impact girls’ educational goals, career aspirations, confidence, and attitudes towards science. S4S sessions are held weekly at CPS partner schools, last 90 minutes, and involve 8 to 15 girls per session. Project Exploration recruits female STEM Professionals to lead and facilitate classroom sessions. In addition to science exploration, each session focuses on leadership development, sharing thoughts with one another, and team-building activities. At the end of each semester, S4S girls participate in a Reflection of Knowledge, an event where the girls present what they have learned in the program.
Based on the single-gender model of S4S, B4S combines science exploration with leadership development for middle school minority boys. Weekly 90 minute sessions are held after school, led by male STEM Facilitators. They are joined weekly by a visiting male STEM Professional, who leads an engaging hands-on science activity and shares his personal journey and career path in STEM. Topics are drawn from the boys' interests, and have included engineering, astronomy, forensic science, and computer science. A key lesson learned in delivering B4S has been to design highly engaging activities that are based in the Engineering Design Process. Project Exploration is also developing a pitch packet to increase the recruitment of male STEM Professionals.
Girls’ Health and Science Day (GHSD)
Girls’ Health and Science Day is an annual daylong conference inspired by girls in S4S, who expressed a need for girls to learn about themselves. A lot of girls don't have support for their concerns or a chance to learn about their health. Workshops presented are guided by the current concerns of girls in S4S regarding topics that are important to their personal well-being. Project Exploration partners with community-based organizations that are experts on topics such as self-defense, positive digital practices, the female body, healthy relationships, and sexuality. Chaperones participate in an adult track designed to provide training and information about issues affecting young girls today.
Spring Break Science Camp
This weeklong program immerses Project Exploration students in the expertise and culture of a STEM-based company or institution. Past partners have included: Tata Consultancy Services, which led activities in coding and robotics; and Motorola Mobility, which paired girls from S4S with a diverse group of professional women.
All Girls Expedition (AGE)
This two-night overnight camping trip is a re-mastered YSP program and introduces middle school aged girls to camping. As a kickoff to fall programs Project Exploration has reintroduced All Girls Expedition, a two-night immersion experience that allows 45 middle school girls from S4S programs to learn practical geology, biology, evaluation, and field science. In partnership with the Cook County Forest Preserve this event aims to give girls who otherwise would not have an opportunity to participate in a camping trip, along with the science learning and get to cook by a campfire, take an evening nature walk, rock climb and of course make s'mores. The trip includes team-building, self-esteem and experience nature.
Explore Technology: Rocketry
This co-ed Rocketry program engages a Board member and STEM Facilitator to work with middle school students. This innovative rocketry/aero science program uses project-based learning to develop skills in teamwork, problem solving, and leadership; and to encourage careers in the engineering industries.
Explore Engineering: Ten80
Recognizing the prominence of engineering in STEM education and careers, Project Exploration continues to work with partner institutions, schools, and individual engineers to build our Engineering Pathway. Project Exploration pairs it’s YSP model with Ten80 nationwide National STEM League, which features a rigorous engineering curriculum and national contest in racecar engineering. This partnership capitalizes on the strengths of each partner organization, maximizing the potential for students to learn exciting engineering principles, while building the foundations for a lifelong engagement with science.
An example of a Pursue program includes:
Science Giants (SG)
SG provides students with meaningful and content-rich learning opportunities as docents or day camp counselors. Focusing on exhibit interpretation and facilitation techniques, the program builds scientific literacy while fostering civic responsibility, public speaking, scientific research, and interpersonal skills. Students develop their skills in the “Learn, Pursue, Explore” model by learning how to speak to an audience, classroom management and communication skills then create a field trip curriculum for a civic institution.
4511 South Evans
Chicago, IL 60644
Natasha Smith-Walker, Executive Director