Community Engagement

The PSD is committed to building on the University’s position as the South Side’s leading economic anchor and to making a strong, lasting contribution to Chicago's vibrancy. From educational outreach to building broad, enduring partnerships with local and global partners, the efforts of our members impact our community and beyond. 

Community outreach is guided by the leadership of the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement, and steered by the four pillars of Anchor, Research, Education, and Innovation.

The efforts of our members support the national vision for the “broader impacts” of scientific research institutions. Efforts are designed to:

  • Promote the full participation of women, persons with disabilities, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
  • Bring STEM education and educator development at any level beyond the campus, sharing with neighbors, K-12, visitors, and audiences online
  • Present public programs and lectures that increase scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology

Some examples include: 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, and providing enabling technology to government and industry.

Our emphasis is engaging the South Side communities including: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn.

We encourage all PSD members to participate.

We know the greatest needs right now include:

Other ways to get involved:

  • Make our community on the South Side the focus of your outreach. Create blueprints for grant needs and engagement concepts with our civic engagement staff at Civic Engagement. They can help you identify needs and communicate.

  • Join a local board of trustees. Connect to nonprofits through Alumni Board Connect offered by Booth's Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. Email Prentiss Koldyke for more information.

  • Bring together family, friends, and coworkers to volunteer for a South Side nonprofit.

  • Make local business patronage the standard for your group. See UChicago Local for a business directory and guides to live and hire local.

PSD Efforts 

Materials Research Science & Engineering Center (MRSEC)

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

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

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)

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.

SESAME (Seminars in Endorsement of Mathematics and Science Educators

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

Prof. Bob Fefferman, Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Mathematics,

This program, designed for teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, offers free instruction in mathematics and in methods of teaching math. Classes are taught by Professor of Mathematics Robert Fefferman, and credit counts towards CPS lane credit and Illinois recertification. Feedback from participating teachers helps Professor Fefferman determine class content.

UChicago STEM Education

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: 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 (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.

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

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 here.


Devshi Mehrotra,

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.

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.

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. 

Interdisciplinary Collaborations through Arts | Science | Culture, Art of Science, STAGE Lab

Professors Heinrich Jaeger, Ka-Yee Lee, and Sidney Nagel, and graduate student Arin Greenberg are providing leadership for our arts/science initiatives to the general public by fostering collaborations with the Arts | Science | Culture, Art of Science, and STAGE initiatives on campus. 

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.

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 publif for free.

Math Department Young Scholars Program

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

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.