UChicago Charter School Visiting Scientist Program Connects Classroom Learning with Life
Posted 12/09/2012 05:00PM
Always innovating to ensure students are immersed in a college-ready, college-going culture, this year the University of Chicago Charter School introduced a new program explicitly linking classroom preparation with college and career aspirations in the sciences.
The UChicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus (UCW) invited accomplished professionals in the field to serve as “Scientist for a Day” to speak candidly with students about how they’d transformed their interests into successful careers. Inaugural visiting scientist Renee E. Walker inspired student cheers, introducing herself as a South Side of Chicago native and a graduate of Morgan Park High School. A powerful existence proof that what is possible is not chained to where you come from, Walker noted that the students gathered in the auditorium before her had an important advantage.
“When I was growing up, I wasn’t lucky enough to go to a school like UCW with a rigorous science curriculum,” she said. “The only exposure I had in elementary school was the science fair—a really basic project where we painted objects to see which brand held up better. I always had a thirst for knowledge and the science in my early school years just wasn’t enough.”
Walker detailed the rest of her school background for the students, from graduating high school all the way through completing her bachelor’s degree, post-baccalaureate training, master’s degree, doctorate and post-doctoral fellowship at five different institutions. As the Q&A started, wide-eyed students asked Walker if it was difficult accomplishing what she wanted to do.
“There were definitely times when my friends were going out to party and I had to stay home and study,” she answered honestly, “but these are the sacrifices you learn to make to be successful in your career.”
Watching student hands continue to shoot up across the auditorium, LaVerne Wright smiled.
“The students always come up with great questions,” she said. The science department chair at UCW, Wright was the driving force behind the “Scientist for a Day” program as well as the science component of UEI’s Summer Accelerated Math and Science Camp and other initiatives exposing students to the relevance and wonder of the sciences.
As the Q&A wrapped up for afternoon class visits, a small voice in the auditorium—one of many UCW students with futures unfolding in a college-going culture—asked, uncertain: “Did you know you were going to do all this when you were young?”
“Maybe not,” Walker laughed, “but I definitely had big dreams.”