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.

Preparing Students for the Global Market Through Science

Preparing Students for the Global Market Through Science

Big Shoulders Fund schools have some of the most passionate and innovative teachers in the city. Ms. Melissa Talaber is the middle grade science teacher at St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood and the winner of the prestigious Golden Apple Award in 2014. We sat down to talk to her about science education in Chicago’s inner-city Catholic schools.

Science, technology, engineering,and mathematics (STEM) education has been pushed to the forefront in education in recent years and has become extremely important. Why do you think that is?

Children today need a different set of skills than I or my parents did growing up.  In current society, our children need to be able to compete in an ever growing and changing global market unlike previous generations.

Today our students need to be able to perform on the same level as students in Tokyo, Japan, Hamburg, Germany, and Oslo, Norway.  Individuals need to be adaptable and engaged in continuous learning.  Science lends itself to modeling the kind of thought processes that will allow today’s children to be successful and able to compete with individuals worldwide.  Science is the path to the acquisition of the skills needed to be analytical and competitive.

How is science education evolving in your school?

Over the past four years with support from the Big Shoulders Fund, we have been implementing the Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP) curriculum in the middle grades.  I participate in ongoing training with Loyola University and for the last year and a half I have been training to be a teacher leader for science.  I participate in the Loyola Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI).  This year we have expanded our science program to include Full Option Science System (FOSS) inquiry-based science kits within the middle grades (starting with third grade).

Since the implementation of the SEPUP program, my instruction has developed into more collaborative, experiential work with higher levels of critical thinking.  Students are no longer focused on memorizing a series of vocabulary words, science concepts and reading about science.  My students are now developing skills necessary to be critical thinkers and are experiencing science through collaborative work.

Big Shoulders Fund schools’ partnership with Loyola (Center for Math and Science Education) and DePaul (Department of Math and Science Education) is vital to helping teachers develop the skills necessary to making science education successful.  This partnership has provided necessary teacher training and classroom support with not only the use of SEPUP and FOSS, but also in better understanding and implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.

My students’ enthusiasm towards science and technology has definitely increased.  My students that have been in the program for three years now are making amazing connections to personal experiences, past academic lessons, and thinking about the future and global impacts.  Students are now excited about science even if it is not their favorite or strongest subject.  I have seen not only improvement in their science content knowledge, but also improvement in their communication (oral and written) skills.

For the past two years you and your school have participated in Staddle Camp at the Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming. Please tell us about that experience as a teacher leader on the trip with your students.

Brush Creek is absolutely an amazing opportunity for inner-city students to experience our nation’s beautiful country side while meeting other students from around the city.  This program does so much more than offer science enrichmentOur students develop leadership skills, build confidence, and expand their life experiences.

It also benefits the adults who share in the experience developing their own leadership skills.  This program provides teachers an opportunity to teach and work with children in an alternative setting.

How and why did you become so committed to teaching Science education in Catholic schools?

I have always enjoyed science and appreciate the beauty of natural phenomena.  I strongly believe in the value of a strong science program.  A strong inquiry science program develops fundamental skills students need to be successful in their continuing education and beyond.  All students should be given access to scientific experiences and exploration and challenged to think critically about the world around them.

Big Shoulders Fund would like to take the opportunity to than the following supporters that make possible the programs mentioned by Ms. Talaber:

Wendy and Dave Dury

Anne and Pat Gallagher

Robert E. Gallagher, Jr.

Robert E. Gallagher Charitable Trust

Motorola Solutions Foundation

Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust

Tengelsen Family Foundation

Beth and Bruce White

Big Shoulders Fund Middle Grades Science Initiative

And thank you for your special support of St. Nicholas Cathedral School:

Selfreliance Ukrainian American Federal Credit Union