Homewood Science Center is a nonprofit community science center founded in 2016 to serve Chicago’s culturally and economically diverse south suburbs. Our mission is to inspire scientific wonder, learning, and pursuit. We work with educators, STEM professionals, and partner organizations to increase STEM literacy and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM, so all area students can gain the skills and confidence they need to fully enjoy and contribute to the civic and commercial vibrancy of our region.
Homewood Science Center provides programs for children, families, schools, and afterschool centers; leads youth internships and volunteer opportunities; operates a community makerspace; maintains a demonstration native pollinator garden; presents films, exhibits, and speakers; teaches kids’ camps and classes; hosts robotics teams; and convenes regional STEM stakeholders for professional development and collaboration. The science center is “a great big community classroom I can rely on,” said one local parent.
Through our programs and events, Homewood Science Center is working to improve STEM literacy; close the STEM achievement gap for female, minority, and low-income students; and increase economic mobility. As a regional hub for STEM in south Cook County, Homewood Science Center provides area students the skills to thrive in the 21st century workforce, educators the tools to develop STEM-literate students, and business and industry the talent to innovate and grow.
Our programs include:
STEM Saturdays - Free programs and activities for families of young children, available weekly
PopUp SCIENCE - Hands-on activities to spark children’s curiosity and exploration of STEM
Girls STEAM SUCCESS - Club for underserved female students to meet diverse professional mentors and build 21st century job skills
Spotlight On - Speaker series for learners of all ages to interact with experts from leading institutions like the University of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry
Middle School Conservation Ecology Internship - Student-led project-based internship to teach young people how to manage and preserve biodiversity and natural resources
Chicago Southland STEM Network - Platform for diverse stakeholders to collaborate on regional STEM education and workforce development
Field trips - Engaging, hands-on experiences for pre-K and elementary students to develop interest, understanding, and self-efficacy in STEM
Families of young learners explore STEM through hands-on activities, exhibits, creative play, and special presentations led by guest experts, such as the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and high school volunteers. Children whose families are engaged in their education earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior. And children’s early experiences in STEM set the stage for future learning and economic mobility.
Since March 2020, Homewood Science Center has developed and distributed nearly 13,000 free PopUp SCIENCE @Home kits to English- and Spanish-speaking children and families in the Chicago Southland. Kits include materials and hands-on STEM activities supported by the Next Generation Science Standards, standards adopted by Illinois schools to prepare students for college and careers. Homewood Science Center distributes these kits in partnership with area schools, nonprofits, and municipal organizations. Elizabeth Reich, principal of Serena Hills Elementary School, a Title I, low-income school in Chicago Heights, said, “PopUp SCIENCE @Home gets kids interacting and creating and using those great 21st century skills that they’ll need to be employed later on.” Homewood Science Center also works with schools to develop PopUp SCIENCE classroom activities that support the schools’ science curricula.
This online club meets weekly, January-June, to give female students in grades 8-12 an opportunity to connect with peer mentors and diverse female professionals in STEAM, practice goal setting, build 21st century job skills, and explore citizen science. Guest speakers at each club meeting represent a diverse cohort of women professionals in STEM education and careers. Research shows female mentors are a powerful force to help girls and young women maintain confidence in their skills, feel a sense of belonging, and stay committed to personal and professional goals in STEM. “I liked that they helped me get to my life goals,” said one student participant. Of the 61 students in Girls STEAM SUCCESS Club 2021, 100% belong to a racial or ethnic minority group and 53% are from low-income families. Girls STEAM SUCCESS Club is part of Homewood Science Center’s suite of Girls STEAM programs, which also includes Girls STEAM Jrs., an event for middle school girls led by Girls STEAM SUCCESS Club members, and our annual Girls STEAM Ahead conference.
Students who apply and are selected for this internship work with local ecology experts to plan and complete a youth-led conservation ecology project in the community, then present their work at a Homewood Science Center event. One student wrote of the group’s invasive species removal efforts at a local nature preserve, “I looked at the before and after pictures taken, and I was amazed at the difference we had all made, working together.”
This monthly webinar series allows learners of all ages to interact with STEM experts from leading institutions like the University of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry. Families and individuals learn about STEM topics, test their knowledge, and ask questions of guest speakers. Students who see diverse people in science can more easily visualize themselves as scientists--a key step in science learning and achievement. “My kids loved it,” wrote one Spotlght On attendee.
On Homewood Science Center field trips, pre-K and elementary students learn STEM vocabulary, are introduced to STEM principles, and perform hands-on STEM activities supported by the Next Generation Science Standards. “Kids need to be hands-on to understand. This helps them get enthused about learning,” said one teacher about the program. The 2,275 students who attended field trips in 2019 represented 27 schools with aggregate minority and low-income populations of 68% and 62%, respectively. With in-house field trips suspended due to Covid-19, Homewood Science Center is working with area schools to develop and deliver virtual field trip experiences.
The Chicago Southland STEM Network is a platform for parents, educators, nonprofits, business and industry leaders, and policymakers to work together to improve regional STEM education and workforce development. Homewood Science Center keeps this group informed about STEM opportunities via a weekly news digest and convenes the network twice yearly for professional development and networking. “I always learn something new,” wrote one attendee. “It’s a great way to find ideas and develop relationships,” wrote another. Relationships built through the Chicago Southland STEM Network are bringing fresh resources to STEM educators in the south suburbs. For example, Homewood Science Center partnered in hosting Northwestern University’s STEM Summit for K-12 educators in 2019, the first time in the event’s 10-year history to be held in south Cook County.
Homewood Science Center also works closely with the Jones Center, a charitable organization that offers programming for low-income youth in Chicago Heights, and Restoration Ministries, a nonprofit serving young people in Harvey. Julia Martin, Restoration Ministries director of youth programming, said, “For our kids, keeping science in their lives is crucial. The science center is the difference between that happening and not happening.”