Chicago: STEM City


I just recently moved back to Chicago and a lot has changed. The neighborhood my mother group up in is now gone. Stores and restaurants have gotten larger, changed locations, or completely disappeared altogether; and the population has increased substantially. But one of the things I have noticed most is that Chicago has become a true mecca for STEM: Tech start-ups are filling the city. Children and adult coding camp signs are posted throughout the city. And although I have always thought about the city in a science-forward way because of the myriad colleges that flourish in scientific academia, Chicago has taken on a new light for me. It is an enabler city for STEM. The opportunities to learn and excel are endless here. 
            This revelation has caused me to look at how we plan the future of our cities a bit more strategically. How powerful is it that kids can learn to code as early as elementary school? Or that a mom of three who wants to jump back into the work force or change her career can go to a coding “boot camp” and come out with the skills to not only get a job but also succeed in a career? STEM cities are cities that enable their citizens to grow and learn in the realm of science, technology, engineering, and math, and although Chicago has always been brilliant, it now joins other STEM cities and areas such as Silicone Valley, New York City, and Houston. These cities have taken the initiative to make STEM a priority because their cities’ leaders understand that STEM is the future. It is so empowering to live in a city that never stops learning.
            And learning is what it’s all about. Chicago has undertaken several initiatives in this STEM-forward movement. One of these strategies is a city-wide strategy adopted in 2014 to give students access to high-quality STEM education from early childhood through college. The goal is to have triple the number of students earning STEM credentials by 2018. And this city-wide effort isn’t just at schools. The Museum of Science and Industry has partnered with the city and is offering free professional-development courses to teachers that will help them lead interactive lessons, as well as providing student worksheets and materials to conduct science activities in the classroom.
            The biggest take-away that I have gleaned from moving back to Chicago is that it doesn't have to be a city-wide effort to be a STEM City. In 2016, more than 150 students from four campuses of Chicago’s Concept Schools participated in the first annual STEM City Festival. The students not only displayed their robotic, mathematic, engineering, and science skills, but they also organized the event themselves. You read that right: Children in grades 5 to 12 organized a festival to show off their burgeoning STEM skills and share it with the community. They subscribe to the belief that making science is fun and should be shared with others.
            And who knows what the future holds for other cities and its inhabitants when it moves to become a STEM city like Chicago has.

Claudia Gravier Frigo contributed to this blog.