Northwestern's Science in Society and the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago (BGCC) welcomed community members and donors to the official grand opening of a new laboratory on Tuesday, April 11. The custom-built lab will be home to Science Club at the True Value BGCC in Little Village, a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. Science Club expanded to True Value BGCC in Winter 2016, following eight successful years at the program’s flagship site, Pederson-McCormick BGCC.
Since first opening doors, Science Club at True Value has operated out of an auditorium, cafeteria, and gym space shared with several other BGCC programs. Now, thanks to generous funding from the Driskill Foundation and continued support from our partners at BGCC, Science Club youth and their scientist-mentors have a new home, complete with sinks, lab tables, laptops, microscopes, and other equipment. The laboratory is a dedicated space for Science Club members to conduct the program’s fun, engaging, and inquiry-based scientific investigations.
“This lab is what science is all about. You feel like you could be in a lab back at my university,” said Science Club mentor Amira Kefi, a bioengineering PhD student at University of Illinois – Chicago.
Science Club was designed in partnership with BGCC and Chicago Public Schools to bring authentic, impactful science education to middle school students in traditionally underserved communities. During each session, Science Club members have the opportunity to learn and practice hands-on science skills with guidance from scientist-mentors.
In 2013, Science in Society researchers published the program’s five-year summative report for the National Institutes of Health. It showed that youth at the flagship Pedersen McCormick Boys and Girls Club emerge from Science Club with greater confidence in their problem-solving abilities and a better understanding of the scientific method. Following these successful findings, the American Honda Foundation partnered with Science in Society to expand the program to True Value.
When asked about her first impression of the new space, 4th-grade Science Club member Sofia V., said, “I was happy because we’ve never had a lab of our own before. Now we have a lab where everybody can share.”
The lab space will be shared not only by Science Club members at True Value BGCC, but also the wider Little Village community, explains Science in Society Director Michael Kennedy. “The True Value building is used by a local high school during the day, and we’re thrilled local teachers and students will also benefit from these resources. We are honored to build capacity in Little Village.”
Science Club youth and mentors had an opportunity to test out the new laboratory for the first time at the winter quarter finale. Each Science Club curricular unit ends with a fun event where students share their work with mentors, family, and friends. This winter, Science Club members were challenged to design, build, and iterate a water filter made entirely out of parts that could be obtained in a resource-strapped area. (Download this and other Science Club curricula here.) In the Clean Water Challenge, students test water quality, refine filter designs, and then pitch their inventions to guest “investors,” who judge the filters on performance, cost, and ingenuity.
Holding the event in the new laboratory helped elevate the authenticity of the students’ investigations and efforts. Kennedy said, “As a child, it’s incredibly empowering to have an authentic science laboratory you can call your own.”
Kefi, the scientist-mentor from UIC, said the new laboratory helps bring a seriousness to the program that she believes will help excite youth about science and attract new scientists to join Science Club as mentors.
“I’m involved with Science Club because I want to pass the knowledge I have acquired to help the next generation, just the way the previous generation helped me,” she said. “I’m happy our students are going to get the feeling of what it’s like to be in a room of science, where you perform real experiments.”
In a speech preceding the official ribbon cutting, Bart McCartin, Chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago Board of Directors, captured the excitement surrounding the new laboratory.
“As I was coming into the Club for this event, I saw some of our youth members out front. They were texting their friends pictures of this new lab saying ‘You gotta get down here!’ and that is just so cool,” McCartin said. “This space is a gateway to hope, curiosity, and opportunity for these kids. It really is amazing.”
You can learn more about Science Club and how to get involved here.