Seeding Innovation in Austin: Project Exploration’s West Side STEM Learning Center Comes to Life
When one hears the word innovation, it can often take us to Silicon Valley in the Bay Area or 1871 in Chicago. At the Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX), we think of the West Side of Chicago, specifically Austin.
In 2017 and 2018, CLX, previously known as the Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning, made two seed investments in its longtime network member, Project Exploration (PE), which focuses on science education and works to ensure communities habitually overlooked by science have access to personalized experiences with science and scientists. PE hosts programs in schools throughout the South and West Sides as well as in their program space, the West Side STEM Learning Center, located in the Austin community.
In 2017 PE identified a major problem. The Austin neighborhood had a plethora of opportunities to participate in sports, but very few opportunities for youth to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming.
Kelsey Galante, PE Program Director explains that with initial support from CLX, “PE was able to establish community relationships and conduct a listening tour. Then with additional funding and connections, CLX assisted PE to launch the West Side STEM Learning Center's first pilot.”
Additional CLX members, Columbia College’s Scientists for Tomorrow, Chicago Architecture Center, and FUSE at Northwestern University all participated in that initial cohort and continue to host programming in the West Side STEM Learning Center.
Through CLX’s annual grantmaking efforts, CLX provides seed funding to community members to create hands-on engaging programs and spaces that inspire learners to pursue their interests as well as develop skills using digital media tools and technologies. We seek to spark innovation to ensure there is racial equity in the future of learning and work.
It’s essential for CLX and its network to place racial equity at the center of our work. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM job creation over the next 10 years will outpace non-STEM jobs by nearly two to one.
Sana Jafri, Director and Program Officer adds, "If we don’t place racial equity at the center, the opportunities for who thrives in the 21st Century will continue to be divided."
Today, the West Side STEM Learning Center serves the entire region by providing high-quality STEM out-of-school learning opportunities that are free and accessible for youth and families. Partnering with Chicago Public Schools Network 3 Office, the center offers free programs year-round, during school breaks and after school
The center aims to continue strengthening the community’s reputation as a place for quality STEM education and innovation. The center also works to expand the impact of STEM schools by serving as a community hub and by leveraging and linking existing initiatives.
CLX is proud to continue its partnership with PE. If you are looking to connect with PE, please visit the PE website at projectexploration.org.