Science Club is an afterschool, mentor-based science program for middle school youth. This program brings graduate student mentors together with small groups of students to conduct fun and engaging scientific investigations. Past curricula include biomedical engineering, medicine, food science, environmental science, audiology, and neuroscience. Each curricular unit culminates with a fun event where students share their work with family and friends.
Science Club has a profound effect on both youth and mentors. Data from the NIH-funded Science Club study shows that youth emerge from the program with greater confidence in their problem-solving abilities and a better understanding of the scientific method. Alumni have gone on to pursue careers in STEM. Mentors report gaining valuable skills as well, including a strong desire to incorporate community engagement into their work.
“I wasn’t thinking about a career in science until I started in Science Club at the Boys & Girls Club. It changed my life. I’ll be graduating next year from the university of Kentucky with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. It would not have happened without the Club and Northwestern mentors.” – Myles, Science Club graduate
The program is based in Chicago at the Pederson-McCormick Boys & Girls Club in Uptown and True Value Club in Little Village, and in Evanston at the education non-profit Family Focus and McGaw YMCA’s MetaMedia.
Science Club’s story begins in 2008. Searching for ways to engage their students in real-world science research, Chicago Public School teachers would often contact Dr. Michael Kennedy, then Director of Education and Outreach for the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University, to arrange for field trips to a lab or for classroom visits.
There was clearly a need to connect Chicago students to scientists. In collaboration with Boys & Girls Club and Chicago Public Schools teachers, Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Carolyn Jahn decided to address this need by launching Science Club. There were four mentors and twelve participating students.
In 2009, Science Club received its first major funding from a competitive $1.5 million, five-year grant from National Institutes for Health Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA). In addition to funding the program, the NIH grant also funded a formal education research study to investigate whether a small-group, mentorship-led model for science education could significantly impact youth science engagement and habits of mind, along with building mentor skills in teaching and communicating.
Based on the study’s positive results, Science Club expanded from its original location at the Pederson-McCormick Boys & Girls Club to include the True Value Boy & Girls Club in Little Village in 2015. The program opened at the Evanston-based Family Focus and YMCA MetaMedia in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
"Science Club has hands down made my graduate school experience more fulfilling. This has been a tremendous learning experience. I’ve learned different teaching strategies, how to plan and design curriculum and build a relationship with a new community partner. I am starting a career in science outreach and education and that is 100% because of Science Club." – Stephanie Rangel, Science Club scientist-mentor
Mentors work with small groups of middle schoolers. Groups meet weekly for hands-on lab activities which encourage scientific thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and safety. One of the most important things about Science Club is the opportunity to build real, strong relationships between mentors and kids, not only boosting their science skills, but instilling confidence through encouragement and regular support.
Each new mentor receives an in-depth small group training session and is paired with a more senior mentor for the first quarter. Many mentors report that the Science Club experience helps reinvigorate their excitement about science and its broad relevance to society, and some have gone on to science education and science advocacy careers based on their experience.