First STEM Scholars Class Heads Off to College!

Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholar Natalie Nieves attends a Saturday workshop in 2013. Today, she is a freshman at Wellesley College, where she plans to combine her STEM education with policy-making through a political science major.

Eight years ago, longtime Big Shoulders Fund supporters Wendy and Dave Dury grasped the necessity of improving children’s skills in science, technology, engineering, and math and funded a new scholarship, the Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholars Program. Students receive scholarship support from fifth through eighth grades and participate in enrichment activities, including Saturday morning classes, science experiments, and museum visits.

This fall, the first class of STEM Scholars is heading to college. Many have realized the program’s original concept and are continuing to pursue an education in one or more STEM areas. Examples include Natalie Bucio, who is on a pre-med track at Loyola University Chicago, and Holy Trinity High School graduate Monika Romo, who is studying engineering at Saint Mary’s College. Big Shoulders continues to support Romo’s college education through a $3,000 grant, renewable for up to four years, from the Greer Foundation.

Jesus Zavala, who is studying engineering at the University of Illinois, served as an intern in the STEM Scholars program for multiple years and as a junior counselor in Big Shoulders Fund’s Brush Creek Ranch Science Enrichment Program. He attributes his intended college major and career path to his exposure to STEM in Saturday classes.

Natalie Nieves, a Holy Trinity graduate who plans to combine her STEM education with policy-making through a political science major at Wellesley College, recalled the program’s impact at a graduation ceremony for STEM Scholars:

“Fifth grade seems like such a long time ago. When I applied for the STEM program, I had no idea I was preparing to do something that would affect the rest of my life. …The Big Shoulders Fund STEM Scholars Program saw the budding geniuses in all of us and helped us evolve into well-grounded scholars who were better prepared for high school than most eighth graders. They want you to succeed!”

The Durys’ vision has inspired other programs, including the Exelon STEM Scholars and a $1 million endowment gift from the Grover Hermann Foundation to fund a significant portion of future programming.