5th Annual STEAM Conference: Where Students Become Instructors

Over 1000 participants attended the 5th Annual STEAM Conference at Northeastern University of Illinois on May 2nd, 2015.

Five years ago, Marcelo Caplan, Columbia College Chicago Associate Professor of the Science and Mathematics Department and Co-founder of Scientists for Tomorrow (SfT), and Aaron Cortes, TRIO Upward Bound Math & Science (UBMS) Director, had an idea. “Why don’t we get our teens to teach other teens?” they thought.

This idea was the catalyst for the first STEAM Conference, a conference where students have the opportunity to teach other students the value of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics through hands on activities.

After months of preparation, more than 200 presenters from various middle and high schools in Chicago represented their educational institutions and organizations by teaching more than 30 hands-on workshops to middle and high school students and parents.

The conference, a result of the partnership between Columbia College Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University, also held two bilingual parent workshops where parents taught other parents the basics of open and close circuits as well as an introduction to the computer field.

Bus after bus, students, parents and instructors packed the auditorium where Marcelo Caplan, SfT co-founder, Evelyn Oropeza, SfT program coordinator, and Aaron Cortes, UBMS director, presided the opening ceremony.

As the opening ceremony progressed, Marcelo Caplan emphasized the importance of events of this nature. “We want to be part of this new model of citizens,” Caplan, 52 said.  “The citizens that understand that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are important and we need to integrate it also with the arts.”  

Science spread through the auditorium as soon as Caplan put his goggles on! Lava flowed from test tubes, water disappeared from a cup after adding a secret ingredient and ultraviolet LED torches lighted up the room.  The audience cheered and clapped as each experiment took shape, but this was only the beginning of a day full of learning.

After the opening ceremony, participants received a program catalogue where they could choose between more than 30 activities to participate in. The opportunities were endless! Some ran to the robotics competition, while others couldn’t wait to build their own monochord, multi color LED, solar USB charger or blast off rocket.

Sixteen-year-old Whitney Young High School student, Noami Guerrero, presented an energy workshop where students built a solar USB charger by studying the laws of electricity and the importance of non-renewable resources. “That presentation was nothing like what I normally do at school,” Guerrero said. “I normally just stand there and say information, and nobody is listening, but here people come voluntarily. It’s just more fun for the presenter and the audience if they are both interested in what they are talking about.” Apart from interacting with an engaged audience, Guerrero believes the conference exposes students to different forms of science and shows them how to apply it in the real world. Guerrero plans to continue studying science after high school and is already looking for in-state physics or electronics college programs.

Duke Ellington and Ella Flygg Young instructor, Geri Catto, brought her students to the conference for them to experience science from a different angle. “They get to see things that they wouldn’t normally see in their science classroom,” Catto said. For her it’s inspiring to see her students present and participate in a different role where they teach other students what they have learned in their SfT after school program.

While her kids participated in the student workshops, Josefina Chavez, Frida Kahlo Community Organization parent, taught other parents an activity called the “Magic Brain.” In this workshop parents explored energy, electricity and how to design an electric game. As a presenter she takes home the satisfaction of motivating other parents to get involved in their children’s’ educational experience.  “All the parents have the capacity of learning,” Chavez, 46 said.

After hours of workshops, Marcelo Caplan, thanked students, parents and instructors for participating in the only conference that allows students to play the role of instructors.  

Students took home their finalized projects and participation certificates, while presenters received a recommendation letter for their effort and dedication.

Scientists for Tomorrow and TRIO Upward Bound Science & Mathematics programs look forward to the next STEAM Conference on May 7th, 2016! 

To watch the video click here: https://vimeo.com/127613959 

Marcelo Caplan- Chosen as One of the Most Influential STEM figures of 2015

10984476_461846130629526_3302356706515863163_nBig news for the Scientists for Tomorrow (SfT) program! Marcelo Caplan, Columbia College Chicago Associate Professor of the Science and Mathematics Department and co-founder of Scientists for Tomorrow, was chosen as one of the most influential Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) figures of 2015 by the National After School Association (NAA) and  featured in After School Today magazine.

Caplan was recognized, along with 16 other STEM professionals, for enriching the educational experience of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and for promoting STEM in communities through the Scientists for Tomorrow (SfT) program, Family Science Day, STEAM Conference and Scientists for a Day program at Columbia College Chicago. “The ideal of our organization is that STEM is a human right that everybody needs to be able to understand and use it to improve their quality of life,” Caplan, 51, said.

It’s an honor and an accomplishment for Scientists for Tomorrow to have Caplan be a STEM figure among professionals such as, astronaut and S.T.E.A.M promoter, Leland D. Melvin, and Anita Krishnamurthi, Vice President of STEM Policy for Afterschool Alliance.

For Caplan, this recognition goes beyond a personal achievement. “I believe that our program is achieving a goal that is to promote STEM in the communities, and many other people are looking at our program as a possible model to be replicated in different communities around the country,” Caplan said. Caplan will continue to work hard to promote STEM programs and enrich student’s educational experience.

After School Today Magazine.pdf


SfT instructor- First Term Experience

I was first introduced to the Scientists for Tomorrow initiative in a rather vicarious manner through the vibrant teachings of Marcelo Caplan. Before he became my mentor, co-worker, and overall wealth of knowledge for all things related to education, he was my professor. One afternoon, he invited my fellow classmates and myself to attend the STEAM conference he was hosting at NEIU. That gave me the opportunity to see how many people were in fact benefiting from the work done by the Scientists for Tomorrow team, of which each member carried the same form of excitement and enthusiasm for the proverbial “wow” moment I myself now try to introduce the children I teach to.

My very first class was also my most stressful one, only because I had never evaluated my public speaking skills in front of children. That said, once I stepped into the classroom and introduced myself to the class, the atmosphere became very fluid and comfortable. I treated every class as a learning experience for both myself and  the children in my classroom.

The Professional Developments really helped me keep a solid pace with the curriculum I was teaching. Not only that, but they provided an environment that invited all of the instructors to get a better understanding of the tools and materials that they would be using, including a chance to ask questions and get advice from Marcelo and Evelyn, who were always more than willing to help explain certain concepts or send over lesson plans and extra materials when needed.

As an instructor, I was given the opportunity to take part in many of the events that Scientists for Tomorrow put on over the course of the semester, such as the Fiesta Familiar (held at the Lincoln Park Zoo) and Family Science Day (held at the Museum of Science and Industry). Not only did those events give me a chance to interact more broadly with the families of the children I taught, but managing large groups of one-hundred or more people over the course of an afternoon definitely helped strengthen my time management skills and allowed me a chance to see children interact with family and friends, as well as impart them with the same knowledge and interesting facts that we covered over the course of our ten weeks together.

Being part of the Scientists for Tomorrow initiative has given me the chance to meet some of the most diligent educators, including some of the most ambitious children I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. Their tenacity and perpetual movement towards success and accomplishment has made my time with Scientists for Tomorrow more than worthwhile, and I look forward to meeting and working with the next group of talented young minds and hopefully giving them a chance to chase and realize their own “wow” moment.

By: Filip Zadro -SfT instructor at Shields Elementary School and Senior at Columbia College Chicago majoring in Audio and Design Production.