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Science Club Makes a Difference in Lives of Underserved Youth

Success of after-school science program profiled in new STEM education journal
  • Club participation increases student aptitude
  • Science factors into club members’ career choices
  • Graduate student mentors come from four Chicago-area universities

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The success of Northwestern University’s award-winning Science Club for underserved youth is featured in the recently published inaugural issue of “Connected Science Learning,” a journal dedicated to high-quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. 

The issue profiles successful programs that bridge in-school and out-of-school settings through collaborative partnerships. 

Science Club serves 100 middle school students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) through a long-term mentorship model. The program involves 50 scientist-mentors who are STEM graduate students at Northwestern and other Chicago-area universities. The mentors meet weekly with small groups of 5th- to 8th-graders after school.

The article by Science Club creator Michael Kennedy and colleagues includes citing a number of positive outcomes for students, according to an external review:

  • Participation in the club is equivalent in magnitude to shifting a student up one full aptitude level (e.g., low to middle, middle to high).
  • Club members associate science with their daily lives and believe science is important to their future career choice.
  • Science Club alumni, now in high school and college, are choosing postsecondary STEM careers at a rate 20 to 30 times higher than before Science Club was offered.
  • Two-thirds of Northwestern’s Science Club mentors (primarily graduate students) say the experience has influenced their career direction.

Science Club was founded in 2008 and continues to be run by Science in Society, Northwestern’s center for science education and public engagement. The federally funded program integrates community experts from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, dedicated CPS science teachers and enthusiastic scientist-mentors to form a powerful educational team. 

Mentors now come from Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Clubs are held at two Boys & Girls Club locations: the Pedersen-McCormick Club in Uptown (since 2008) and the True Value Club in Little Village (since 2016). The Pedersen-McCormick Club features a dedicated science laboratory built by Northwestern; a similar lab is currently in development for the True Value Club.

The program has grown to serve CPS students beyond the original clubs. Teachers at five schools -- Newton Bateman Elementary, Budlong Elementary, Jahn Elementary, O.A. Thorp Scholastic Academy and St. Stanislaus Kostka -- have used Science Club curricula in their school-based programs. Science Club alumni now in high school have returned to serve as junior mentors. And both clubs have sprouted Jr. Science Clubs for eager elementary school youth.