STEM education for kids from underrepresented communities

The Chicago Pre-College Science & Engineering Program (ChiS&E), an innovative STEM program serving grades K-5, held its first fundraiser at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) on Sept. 11, 2014.

By Joy Chang September 15, 2014

9-year-old Melvin Slater, holding the "Pen Blaster" he created by using a one-dollar pen, tried to explain all the mechanical parts: the spring, the screw, and the rubber telescope, during the first fundraiser for the Chicago Pre-College Science & Engineering Program (ChiS&E), an innovative STEM program serving grades K-5 on Sept. 11, 2014.

Melvin Slater, who wants be a mechanical engineer when he grows up, was one of the many participants of ChiS&E’s Summer Lab Programs that engages both K-5 students and their parents in hands-on math and science projects. Founded in 2008 by Kenneth Hill, the mission of ChiS&E is to promote pre-college engineering education among kids from underrepresented communities. Beginning with seven schools in 2008, the program now serves twice as many schools in low-income communities of color on the South and West sides of Chicago.

Slater’s father was one of the guest speakers at the event. "The program not only changed my son but me, and my whole family. It helps my son to think critically and intensively, showing us his potential that we couldn’t have spotted without ChiS&E," Slater said.

Lori Washington, mechanical engineer and manager at BP Global, graduated from ChiS&E’s parent program, the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP), three decades ago. She gave remarks on the event and thanked the program for her success. "I am standing here as a successful female African-American engineer. But when I was in engineering school, there was no one look like me in my class. When I started my career, the moment I said that I can do something, people started second-guessing me. ChiS&E helps more African American women break into this field. With more engineers that look like us, we can prove our ability," Washington said.

Jim Langhenry, co-founder of CFE Media, attended the event to support ChiS&E’s mission that aligns with the company’s goal: to educate engineers. During his speech, Langhenry pointed out the skills gap and the huge opportunity in the engineering job market. However, many people don’t see the importance of science and math education for young children. With the fact that many successful people in the world have experiences with engineering at some point of their lives, "It is crucial to show our kids that being engineers are as exciting as being actors, actresses, or sport stars," Langhenry said.

Recently ChiS&E was one of only 30 organizations out of a pool of 1130 applicants, nation-wide, to be awarded a 3-year $450,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) for its work in "Developing and implementing transformative family engagement programs in the field of early childhood education."

– Joy Chang, digital project manager, CFE Media,  

For more information about ChiS&E, see