Community Engagement

At the University of Chicago, community engagement is an institution-wide commitment that encompasses our contributions to the enrichment of human life through research and education, our work to increase economic opportunities on the South Side, and our support for the open exchange of ideas with our broader community.

The PSD supports this commitment through making a strong, lasting impact on Chicago's vibrancy through research and education. Our efforts help leverage the University’s role, as the South Side’s leading economic anchor, in supporting local businesses and residents. From educational outreach to building broad, enduring partnerships with local and global partners, the efforts of our members impact our neighboring communities and beyond. We encourage all PSD members to participate.

The University has a nine-neighborhood focus area on the South Side that includes: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn.

Community outreach is guided by the leadership of the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement (OCE). In partnership with OCE, the Division will continue to develop and advance its distinct civic priorities: Anchor, Research, Education, and Innovation.

Broader Impacts

The efforts of our members also support the national vision for the “broader impacts” of scientific research institutions. 

Broader impacts efforts are designed to:

  • Promote the full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
  • Extend STEM education and educator development at any level beyond the campus, sharing with the South Side community, K-12, visitors, and audiences online
  • Present public programs and lectures that increase scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology
  • Development of a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce; increased partnerships between academia, industry, and others
  • Improved national security; increased economic competitiveness of the U.S.; and enhanced infrastructure for research and education

Grants from the National Science Foundation

The majority of federally funded grants to PSD come from the National Science Foundation. Among the almost 200 active grants, a good portion have broader impacts that include community engagement.

Large NSF-funded research centers, such as the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), engage in activities with the community on a larger scale.

PSD Efforts

The information below includes funded grants from the NSF as well as a number of efforts led by groups across the PSD.

  • Involving high school students in research
  • Course enrichment for high schools
  • Curriculum development for high schools
  • Field trips for K-12 students
  • K-12 teacher development
  • Programming at museums
  • Public lectures
  • Providing enabling technology to government and industry

Materials Research Science & Engineering Center (MRSEC)

Contact: Eileen Sheu

The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) pursues innovative research to produce the design principles for the next generation of materials. Education outreach activities include the annual science demonstration show Physics with a Bang!, after-school science clubs, lab tours, the development of museum exhibits at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and the Exploratorium in San Francisco, summer research internships for high school students, enrichment classes for high school students, and continuing education for Chicago Public School teachers.

Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics (KICP) and the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics

Contact: Brian Nord

The vision that guides the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics is "to deepen our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Universe and the laws that govern it by bringing together astronomers and physicists, theorists and experimentalists within a unique interdisciplinary culture." KICP's Education & Outreach programs offer creative and substantive programs that have lasting and measurable impacts. Space Explorers is a multi-year program for inner city, precollege students that includes laboratory experiences with KICP researchers and summer residential science institutes. Adler Astronomy Conversations takes place at Adler Planetarium where KICP researchers give public lectures using images and video from current research. The Life-Long Learning program is a program for cognitively active retired adults. The program provides intellectual and social stimulation through a series of interactive lectures at assisted-living residences, culminating in field trips to the Adler Planetarium.

Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy

Contact: Seth Severns

The Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP) brings together experts in economics, physical sciences, energy technologies, law, computational mathematics, statistics, and computer science to undertake a series of tightly connected research programs aimed at improving the computational models needed to evaluate climate and energy policies, and to make robust decisions based on outcomes. Educational outreach programs include research experiences for high school students, teacher training workshops, and public school curriculum development.

EPiQC Center (Enabling Practical-Scale Quantum Computing)

Contact: Randy Landsberg

EPiQC is a new NSF-funded center. The research goal of EPiQC is to reduce the current gap between existing theoretical algorithms and practical quantum computing architectures. EPiQC will design teaching curricula and distribute exemplar materials for students ranging from primary school to engineers in industry. EPiQC will also establish an academic-industry consortium which will share educational and research products and accelerate the pace of quantum computing design and applications.

Leaders of Color

Leaders of Color (LOC) aims to increase the participation of minority students in leadership opportunities across the UChicago campus. Targeted specifically towards first and second year students of color, LOC seeks to prepare students with the skills to achieve internships and leadership positions on campus and beyond. 

SESAME (Seminars in Endorsement of Mathematics and Science Educators

Contact: John Boller

This is a three-year, 270-hour program for elementary school teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. It offers 90 hours of classroom instruction each year, 60 in the summer and 30 during the academic year. Participating teachers earn appropriate formal educational credit leading to State of Illinois Middle Grade endorsements in math and science. The courses place a strong emphasis on content and the conceptual foundations of the subject, along with strategies and pedagogical techniques for bringing this content to the classroom. The goal is to provide knowledgeable teachers who can deliver the subject matter to middle grade students in a highly effective way. PSD faculty serve as instructors in this program, with courses being offered in mathematics, physics, chemistry, materials science, earth science, climate science, environmental science, astronomy, and biology.

Polk Brothers Program

Contact: Prof. Robert Fefferman

This program, designed for teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, offers free instruction in mathematics and in methods of teaching math. Professor Jerry Becker, Southern Illinois University, teaches a course featuring a modern method of math education, and Professor Robert Fefferman teaches content courses to improve the teachers' appreciation and understanding of mathematics. Credit counts towards CPS lane credit and Illinois recertification. Feedback from participating teachers helps Professor Fefferman determine class content.

UChicago STEM Education

Contact: Andy Isaacs

UChicago STEM Education continues the University of Chicago’s long-standing commitment to improving precollege education and aims to support high quality mathematics and science instruction and learning for all students. Through the sharing of knowledge and the creation of useful products and programs, UChicago STEM Education seeks to make a positive difference for mathematics and science instruction throughout the nation. UChicago STEM Education’s work comprises three components: (1) Research and Evaluation, (2) Tool Development (i.e., curriculum such as the Everyday Mathematics textbook), and (3) School Support Services.

Everyday Mathematics and other curriculum published by UChicago STEM Education has a significant impact on K-12 education throughout the country.  UChicago STEM Education staff give workshops and presentations about their curricular materials and how to implement them.

Everyday Mathematics Virtual Learning Community

The Everyday Mathematics Virtual Learning Community (VLC) provides a space for teachers to view and share resources that support mathematics teaching, communicate with other teachers about pedagogy, and take time to reflect on their practice. The VLC is maintained by staff at UChicago STEM Education. The Virtual Learning Community includes online professional development courses. See also: https://vlc.uchicago.edu/online-pd-module-packages/regular.

LEADCS.org

LeadCS.org is a website for K-12 education leaders in schools and districts and their partners looking to begin or improve a computer science education initiative. It houses a collection of research-based tools and recommendations.

Magnetar Capital UChicago Financial Education Initiative

Financial education for high school students. A new partnership between the Magnetar Capital Foundation and UChicago STEM Education will expand access to financial education for high school students. The Magnetar Capital Foundation, parent organization of the Magnetar Youth Investment Academy, will provide UChicago STEM Education with $5 million over four and a half years to further develop and grow the Academy’s high school financial education program. Under the new partnership, UChicago STEM Education will oversee and administer the project, will continue to design, develop, and refine a flexible and modern set of tools to enable teachers to deliver robust lessons to students, and will develop a data-rich infrastructure to strengthen and measure implementation, ongoing improvement and growth.

CurriculumKIT

Contact: Thomas Binkowski

CurriculumKit (formerly MyPath) is the first “smart” digital planning tool for teachers. It allows teachers to make adaptations to an existing curriculum and gives immediate feedback on those adaptations based on research on curriculum design and student learning progressions. CurriculumKit’s development was funded by the University of Chicago Innovation Fund. It was designed and pilot-tested with UCSMP Algebra 1 teachers.

Energy Demo Lending Library

Contact: Seth Severns

Energy science and technology are subjects of immense importance to the world. With the support of the University of Chicago's Women's Board, we have developed a library of energy-related demos and curriculum supplements that teachers in the Chicago area can check out and use to enrich their classrooms. We seek to provide teachers with valuable resources to integrate science and technology into their curriculum, thus helping Chicago elementary and high school students become familiar with an important, yet often overlooked aspect of science instruction. To check out the demos shown in the gallery below, please click on the images or email Seth Severns.

CompileHer

The CompileHer student organization, which operates in the Computer Science Department, engages middle school girls in hands-on activities in the field of computer science in an effort to close the technology gender gap. They are a very active organization and, as recently as January 26, 2019, ran a day-long hackathon called "dreamHer" for middle school girls. At another event, Tech Capstone, middle school girls participate in day-long workshops being designed by five computer science faculty members.

Math Department Young Scholars Program

Contact: John Boller

The University of Chicago's Young Scholars Program offers mathematically talented seventh through twelfth graders in the Chicago area an opportunity to explore mathematics that are not generally taught in schools. The aim of the program is to strengthen the participants' mathematical powers through a deep experience in mathematical thought and effort. The intention is to broaden and enrich the students' understanding of mathematics rather than to accelerate them through the standard high school curriculum. Students are encouraged to engage in active problem solving and are challenged to broaden their understanding of mathematics. The Young Scholars Program offers a four-week day-camp that requires an application and is significantly selective.

Artifice After School Programs

Contact: Adam Hammond

Artifice is a Woodlawn-based organization that runs after-school programs in Woodlawn and Hyde Park. The staff teaches youth how to build websites, make video games, build robots, and repair computers—skills to develop youth into entrepreneurs.  Artifice is not a program or unit within the University of Chicago. It is a nonprofit organization that was founded by graduate students in the biophysical sciences PhD program as part of their National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Adam Hammond, Senior Lecturer in the Biophysical Sciences program (and who has advised graduate students on applying for the NSF Graduate Fellowship), is currently the CEO. Graduate student volunteers provide the programming at Artifice. Although Artifice is now a stand-alone nonprofit organization, its founding emerged from students at UChicago committed to community engagement. See here for more info on its founding.

Adopt-a-Physicist

Adopt-a-Physicist connects high school physics students to real physics graduates who are eager to share their stories. Working in areas ranging from particle physics research to freelance writing, the participating physicists embody a huge range of careers, backgrounds, interests, and educational levels. Adopt-a-Physicist connects classes with the physicists of their choice through online discussion forums that are active for a set three-week period. Each physicist can only be "adopted" by up to three classes, making lively, in-depth discussions possible.

Adopt-a-Physicist aims to:

  • Engage high school physics students and teachers in exploring the benefits of studying physics.
  • Encourage physics graduates to give-back by sharing their experiences with students.
  • Advance the dialogue between the physics and the high school education communities.

The Aquarius Project

The Aquarius Project is a teen-driven underwater ROV meteorite hunt led by scientists from the Adler Planetarium’s Far Horizons program, and experts from the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, and NASA.

Chicago Public School Science Fair

Volunteer at the local science fair level to get the general public interested in science and serve as a resource to 7th-12th grade students.

Coding and Data Exploration with Smart Lamps

Contact: Seth Severns

Computer programming and data analysis have become essential skills in the modern workforce, and Chicago Public Schools now requires computer science training for all high school graduates. The Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP) outreach team deploys hands-on interactive curriculum for middle through high school students and teachers. They have developed an effective coding course, Coding and Data Exploration with Smart Lamps, that engages students in programming hands-on “smart lamps” (an internet-connected LED lamp driven by a palm-sized Raspberry Pi microcomputer). They want to bring our innovative curriculum to as many classrooms as possible. Teachers interested in learning more should contact Seth Severns.

High School Summer Scholars

Contact: Seth Severns

Our high school summer interns typically work in small teams paired with undergraduate and graduate research students to conduct interdisciplinary research around climate change and energy. All of the projects involve learning some programming and data analysis techniques. They allow for a wide range of computer skills, from beginner to advanced. The only requirement is that interns are interested in computers. Students also participate in weekly group meetings, attend classes, and formally present their research at the end of the summer to members of RDCEP. These paid eight-week internships usually start around the last week of June and end in mid-August. Typically, interns work Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. 


Expanding your Horizons

Expanding Your Horizons Chicago is a one-day conference where 300 middle school girls participate in hands-on science, technology, engineering, and math workshops. Volunteers help inspire and empower middle school girls to pursue science and math careers. They moderate workshop break-out rooms, lead a group of girls throughout the conference, assist with social media, troubleshoot tech/IT issues, lead break activities (e.g. dance breaks), moderate zoom rooms for the parent program, or translate in Spanish or ASL. The Chicago conference is in March, and volunteers attend a mandatory orientation session at UIC. 

HerStory MSI

HerStory is an outreach event for young females who are curious about science.
Event begins with a "Famous Women in Science History" scavenger hunt around the Museum of Science and Industry, followed by a lunch provided by the museum.
During the lunch, scientists and graduate students will speak with the students
​about their experiences and motivations in science and higher education.

Fermi Summer Interns Program in Science

Contact: David W. Miller

Each year approximately 20 incoming 7th grade students from schools near Hyde Park participate in the Enrico Fermi Summer Internship at the University of Chicago. The internship includes lectures led by university professors, laboratory experiments to apply concepts learned in lectures, and web design for communicating accomplishments to the world. Students will learn about science, computers, and electronics in a fun way, and will build electronic games and devise their own experiments to test scientific concepts.

Space Explorers

Contact: Brian Nord

Founded in 1991, the Space Explorers Program has provided deep and meaningful experiences to over four hundred urban youth and one hundred scientists-mentors. The program offers youth from neighborhoods around the University a multi-year science enrichment opportunity. The program provides over one-hundred (100) contact hours each year, including weekly laboratories taught on campus, three-day winter and week-long summer institute. This sustained engagement offers the Space Explorers the opportunity to become familiar with the University research community and the culture of science. It also helps to cultivate future teacher/scholars by offering a variety of valuable teaching, communication and team-working experiences to younger scientists.

Physics with a Bang!

MRSEC organizes the Holiday Lecture (Physics with a Bang!) and Open House for the local community every December. During the free, public lectures MRSEC members perform a wide range of science demos, many with instant playback enabled by highspeed video from MRSEC Shared Facilities. Guided tours of laboratories plus a ‘Demo Alley’ (hands-on tabletop science interactives) are part of this annual event, which involves ~ 95 volunteers associated with MRSEC laboratories and feature science from ~ 19 research groups. This event has spawned a new graduate student led initiative, “Bicycle Physics with a Bang,” centered on physics related to bicycles, which brought science activities to a local youth education center in Woodlawn for eight weeks last summer, and is expected to continue. Also using some of the Physics with a Bang! demos, Professor of Chemistry and Physics Philippe Guyot-Sionnest developed a program on science and sound benefitting the Hyde Park Youth Symphony. 

South Side STEM Summer Camp

The summer camp will serve as a platform for students to build passion and confidence for STEM through a deep dive into engaging content and through activities that are explicitly designed to foster students’ growth mindsets as STEM learners. Acceptance into the camp will be application-based but is neither selective (i.e. based on high achievement) nor remedial (i.e. based on poor performance). Rather, the camp targets a wide range of students who are willing to engage fully in the three-week camp and open to learning new things.

The three-week STEM Camp will run in JulyStudents will need to have access to a computer and internet. 

All campers will receive:

  • Daily online and at home activities
  • Materials kit
  • Daily meetings facilitated by STEM educators for approximately 90 minutes per day from either 9:00-10:30 or 1:00-2:30. Students can indicate their preference on the registration form.
  • Camp t-shirt 

Thanks to generous funding from the University of Chicago Women’s Board, there is no cost to families or schools.

Interested families must complete an online application on or before June 1

Materials Teaching & Design Lab

The Design Lab is a digital fabrication and education resource. The Lab and instruction from MRSEC staff is available to local K-12 students to explore the next generation of material fabrication techniques at no cost to them. It is used extensively for MRSEC outreach programs, especially during the summer.

Tutoring Chicago

Empower economically disadvantaged children through education by providing one-to-one tutoring services to economically disadvantaged students in 1st through 7th grade. Contact: Mr. EL Da' Sheon Nix, Community Relations Director, 312.858.5837.

Broadband Access

In a new project funded by a $1.2 million grant from data.org, University of Chicago professor Nick Feamster will lead a team of UChicago researchers pinpointing gaps in digital infrastructure, from the lack of cable or fiber connectivity to a spotty video streaming session. The effort will also build a toolkit to help civic organizations—cities, government agencies, community-based organizations and others—make informed decisions about improvements to effectively narrow the digital divide. They will partner with the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, Chicago Public Schools, the civic non-profit organization Kids First, and urban solutions accelerator City Tech Collaborative.

Center for Data Science and Public Policy – Data Science for Social Good Fellowship

The Data Science for Social Good Fellowship is a University of Chicago summer program to train aspiring data scientists to work on data mining, machine learning, big data, and data science projects with social impact. Fellows of the DSSG work with governments, non-profits, and mentors from both industry and academia to work on real-world problems in education, health, energy, public safety, transportation, economic development, international development, and more. Over the course of the three months the Fellows spend in Chicago, they build analytical and coding skills as they apply to data science through a combination of seminars and project experience. The 2016 program brought 42 aspiring data scientists from across the world. This group of highly qualified learners completed 12 projects in the course of 13 weeks. The 4-year history of the program has trained 168 fellows and completed 50 projects in partnership with governments, non-profits, and social enterprises. More information about the exciting work of our DSSG Fellows can be found on the webpage.

South Side Civic

Students from the Computational Analysis and Public Policy run South Side Civic, an effort that was created to form a bridge between South Side nonprofits, small public offices, and social entrepreneurs and the UChicago network to help them use data and technology to solve challenges and advance their missions.  

One major event of South Side Civic is the annual ScopeAthon. The main objectives of the ScopeAthon are to form cross-functional teams to scope out problems faced by civic organizations, break the problems down into manageable parts, and develop a plan to address them. While traditional hackathons are about writing code, a scopeathon focuses on understanding the purpose and use of technology in helping solve problems. Before anyone writes a line of code, it’s crucial to understand what a technology solution needs to accomplish. This understanding bridges developers and organization representatives, and the scopeathon strengthens this cross-discipline awareness. Through this annual event, students:

  • Learn and exercise problem-scoping skills
  • Meet civic leaders in active organizations
  • Work on real problems
  • Contribute to the civic-tech community

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Museum Outreach

Science museums are a primary focus for MRSEC’s public outreach; much of the work is aimed at the collaborative development of concepts that can lead to exhibits. MRSEC has forged long-standing partnerships with the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. An exhibit on granular materials based on MRSEC research was incorporated into a major permanent installation, Science Storms. Professor of Chemistry Steve Sibener assisted with the development of a unique interactive periodic table for the Science Storms installation and also assisted with the development of its digital extension, the goREACT app. This app brought this interactive experience to an even wider audience. MRSEC faculty and staff met students at the museum and provided tours of the MRSEC research-related exhibits. Exchanges between Exploratorium staff in San Francisco and MRSEC researchers resulted in two exhibits, “Arp Forms,” illustrating non-Newtonian fluid behavior, and “Stress Trees” which uses photoelastic material to illustrate granular stress chains. Finally, Professor of Molecular Engineering Juan de Pablo (IME) worked with staff from the Museum of Science and Industry for his course development on Scientific Communication.

Arts, Science + Culture Initiative — UChicago Arts

Contact: Julie Marie Lemon

The Arts, Science Culture Initiative cultivates collaboration, active exchange, and sustained dialogue among those engaged in artistic and scientific inquiry within the University and beyond. The Initiative provides opportunities for scholars, students, and arts practitioners, in multiple domains, to pursue original investigations and explore new modes of artistic production and scientific inquiry. Breaking intellectual ground requires transcending disciplinary boundaries and venturing into unfamiliar territory. To that effect, the Initiative’s programs are designed to spark conversations and critically engage faculty, students, and the public across a broad spectrum of areas including art history, astronomy and astrophysics, biology, chemistry, cinema and media studies, computer and information science, creative writing, literature, mathematics, medicine, music, molecular engineering, physics, theater, and visual arts. Read more.

STAGE Lab

Contact: Nancy Kawalek

STAGE — Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration — is a full-scale laboratory embedded within the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. The STAGE Lab brings new theatre and film work about science and technology to the general public.

Brinson Astronomy Lectures

Investment manager Gary Brinson endows the Brinson Lecture through his foundation, which supports education and scientific research programs that engage, inform, and inspire citizens to confront the challenges that face humanity. The Brinson Lectures present cutting-edge science to the public for free.

Chicago Community Climate Partnership

The Chicago Community Climate Partnership is a coalition of more than 70 cultural institutions, community groups, local businesses, environmental organizations, universities, and philanthropies. The coalition rose from an emerging demand by Chicagoans to take action on climate change.

Discovery Squad

From wild creatures to rocks and minerals, Discovery Squad educators help visitors explore something new at the Field Museum. Every day from 10 am - 3 pm, educators help visitors explore samples from the collection they wouldn’t see otherwise, and show how scientists use artifacts and specimens and why they’re so important. Scientists interested in helping visitors explore the Museum should visit the volunteer page. Having theater or teaching experience is a plus. Volunteers commit to four half-day shifts (9:30 am–1 pm or 12–3:30 pm) or two full-day shifts (9:30 am–3:30 pm) per month.

Soap Box for Science

Twelve top early career women in STEM from Chicago-area institutions gathered for a public outreach pop-up on Navy Pier. Speakers engage visitors with a broad range of topics – astrophysics, planetary science, particle physics, ecology, neuroscience, cancer research, mathematics, and material science. Participants of last year’s event came from the University of Chicago, Fermilab, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Night classes at St. Leonard’s Ministries for Formally Incarcerated People

Contact: Laura Popovics

The small-class format of this program is designed to offer individual assistance for the adult student who has been away from school for some time or has difficulty learning in a large classroom environment. Volunteer teachers – all experienced educators – assist in this activity, which is carried out at different times during the week. The focus is on basic math skills and reading/writing skills.

St. James Meals Ministries

St. James Meals began in the early 2000s when St. James Sunday School teachers wanted to give our children opportunities to help others. The children made sandwiches and packed lunches to be handed out once a month. Two decades later, a brunch on the third Sunday of each month provides a full breakfast, toiletries, necessities, along with a sack lunch.

In 2010, Sandwich Sunday volunteers expanded the reach of our meals ministry by starting a lovingly-prepared dinner that first hosted seven guests. Now, on the first Tuesday of every month, the meal hosts around 150 guests. We are always looking for people who care about serving our underserved neighbors.

We know the greatest needs for the University’s neighboring communities on the South Side right now include:

Food 

Supplies

Tutoring children and adult learners