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Chicago Urban League Encourages Citywide Partnerships to Bolster African American STEM Success at Annual Summit

For Immediate Release

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Exelon’s Christopher M. Crane delivers keynote address and several local innovators celebrated for blazing a path to address America’s STEM shortage

CHICAGO (May 7, 2013)—Creating innovative public, private and non-profit partnerships to bolster the number of African Americans prepared to fill future career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) was one of several solutions presented at the Chicago Urban League’s annual Summit and luncheon. Held at the Hilton Chicago the Summit, themed STEMing the Barriers to Opportunity, convened more than 600 of Chicago’s civic, business, community and elected leaders.

Despite accounting for 12 percent of the U.S. population and 11 percent of all students beyond high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, African Americans in 2011, received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4 percent of master’s degrees, and 2 percent of PhDs.

“STEM education has to be accessible to all students no matter where they attend school,” said Andrea L. Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.  “We have to level the playing field in our public schools and debunk the myth that African Americans don’t have the capacity to grasp and excel in science and math courses. We must show our children that these skills are attainable and show them examples of people who are doing great things in the STEM fields.”

Today, many STEM positions go unfilled for lack of qualified workers. The U.S. Labor Department reports only five percent of workers are employed in the fields related to science and engineering, making the urgent need for scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the United States a crisis that threatens the nation’s global competitiveness in the very near future. This challenge is exacerbated in the African American community due, in part, to a lack of educational and training opportunities.

Exelon president and CEO Christopher M. Crane keynoted the luncheon.  He told the audience, “We have known for quite a while that the state of STEM education in this country is not good. This is an unsustainable situation for all of us – the U.S. economy, the ability of the U.S. to compete globally, the Chicago business community, and of course, minority kids who aspire to good jobs. The schools, government at every level, community groups as well as business can and must play a role in resolving the problem.”

In addition to generating solutions to the under representation of African Americans in the STEM fields, the Chicago Urban League also highlighted local innovators who are blazing successful pathways for themselves and for those that will follow them.

Receiving special recognition for their dynamic work in the areas of STEM were: Karriem S. Watson, creator of an 8-week STEM summer camp at the University of Illinois at Chicago that exposes high school seniors, first-year medical students and other grad students to research projects that address health disparities and inequities; Fareeda Shabazz, principal of the new Richard T. Crane Medical Preparatory High School that will help students optimize their potential by preparing them for STEM careers, exposing them to real-world experiences through partnerships in the nearby medical district; and Dr. Erica Marsh, founder of the Northwestern Medicine Scholars program which encourages top-performing high school students to consider a career as a physician or medical researcher. Dr. Marsh is also a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and a physician on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Three local organizations were also recognized: Project SYNCERE, cofounded by Jason Coleman, Seun Phillips and George Wilson, that partners with Chicago Public Schools and other organizations to offer project-based learning in robotics, renewable engineering and computer gaming; Starter League, created by Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee, that helps technology neophytes learn Web design and development; and Girls 4 Science, a nonprofit that introduces young women to science careers that was created by Jackie Lomax.

“As the nation continues to bounce back from a recession that hit everyone from Wall Street to Main Street—it is our responsibility, as leaders, to ensure that everyone is prepared to participate in the new economy,” said Anthony K. Anderson, Chairman of Chicago Urban League Board of Directors. “Research proves that, in this new economy, you won’t get far without a firm grasp of one or more of the STEM fields.”

Lead sponsors for the event included: Boeing, Clear Channel Media & Entertainment Chicago, Grosvenor Capital Management, ITW, and Southwest Airlines.

About the Chicago Urban League
Established in 1916, the Chicago Urban League works for economic, educational and social progress for African Americans and promotes strong sustainable communities through advocacy, collaboration and innovation.