STEM Scholars

Recognizing the critical role Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) play in students’ academic success and future professional opportunities, Big Shoulders Fund launched the STEM Scholars Program and scholarship in the fall of 2010. The program and scholarship aims to encourage more children to engage in advanced STEM education and careers. The Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholars Program was founded by longtime Big Shoulders Fund supporters Dave and Wendy Dury, who regularly attend sessions and interact with the scholars and instructors. 

Starting with 23 fifth grade students in the 2010-2011 academic year, the program has since grown to engage over 100 fifth through eighth grade students annually. Each year thirty-fifth grade students from Big Shoulders Fund schools are selected for the program and invited to participate through eighth grade. Students are selected for the program based on their affinity for STEM, and scholarships are awarded based on their financial need. Since its inception in 2011 more than 200 students have graduated from the program.

Scholars participate in inquiry-based STEM lessons, labs, and projects over the course of 18 Saturdays throughout the school year, culminating in 216 additional hours of STEM instruction over the course of the program. They also attend two field trips to local museums, maker spaces, and STEM work sites and interact with STEM professionals each year. With guidance from the Durys, the program is administered by Denise Porter, Director of STEM Outreach for UChicago STEM Education. The instructional team consists of master teachers and STEM professionals with each class co-taught by a math and science instructor.

Many graduates of the program have since gone on to pursue advanced STEM coursework at highly selective high schools throughout Chicago and undergraduate studies in elite STEM programs. Select alumni continue their involvement through internships that allow high school and college students who are graduates of the program to work closely with the STEM instructors preparing lab and instructional materials, working with small groups of students, and maintaining the STEM Scholars website.

After having participated as a STEM Scholar and then an intern of the program, in 2020 LaKeisha Williams went on to become the 8th grade science instructor for STEM Scholars while pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science at DePaul University. When asked about how the program has impacted her, Lakeisha remarked,

“Being a part of the STEM scholar community helped me discover my passion for computer science by learning topics that were not taught at my elementary school. As an instructor, I hope to help other scholars discover their passion.”

We invite you to follow the STEM Scholars as they dive into new STEM investigations
@bigshoulders_STEM on Instagram.