Inner-city kids benefit from Science Club

October 6, 2013 2:16:33 PM PDT
Chicago has its share of worthwhile after school programs, but there's unique program running at the 50-year-old Boys and Girls Club of Uptown.

It aims to develop professional scientists out of inner-city kids with the help of some graduate science students from Northwestern University.

Upstairs, the unmistakable sound of minds expanding.

"This has helped me a lot," said Mahil Nawaz. "It's like the biggest support I can get in science."

Until Science Club, the Bangladeshi-American was intimidated by the search for truth that underlies the scientific method of inquiry. Northwestern grad students help her design her own science fair project.

It is complicated, but serious science, overseen in this case by a PhD candidate in neuroscience.

"They're the ones that are going to becoming scientists, and professors and researchers," said Shoai Hattori. "They're the next generation of scientists."

Science Club Today is populated by the Goudy Middle School students of Patrick Rodriguez.

"A lot of the kids that were kind of borderline and wanted to do science but were never really like the great students," said teacher Patrick Rodriguez. "They'd come back with a lot more information - a lot more excitement for it."

There are graduates of this program now working to expand it, as top-notch scientists themselves.

"You never know where the talent and excitement is going to come from and I think giving them the just that extra opportunity to shine really helps these kids," said Amy Sebeson.

And there are more recent graduates who think they'd be nowhere without it.

"All of the mentors here were very encouraging they always helped me get back on track," Sandy Nguyen said.

"Before Science Club, I really wasn't too interested in science," said Shalizar Alford. "But when I joined it gave me a whole lot of opportunities to learn and to learn new stuff that I enjoy."

In a neighborhood plagued with gang violence, these are the regular successes of Northwestern's science in society program. The program, though, is slated to lose its five-year, $1.4 million funding from the National Institutes of Health at the end of the 2014-15 academic year.

"It's the kind of opportunity I wish my own kids had, to be honest," said Dr. Michael Kennedy.

On Monday, Science Club will receive the Afterschool Alliances 2013 Stem Impact Award, one of only two programs in the nation to be recognized for excellence in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, teaching.

For more information: Science Club


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