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Workshop series has reached 650 CPS students to date to help build interest in computing and tech pathways and bolster connections to Chicago’s tech community

April 29, 2024 (CHICAGO) —The Discovery Partners Institute, part of the University of Illinois System, is celebrating its second year of a partnership with Chicago Public Schools to bring high school computer science students to DPI for enriching workshops. This year, the partnership helped support and encourage more than 400 CPS students from nearly a dozen schools to explore the tech field. 

This workshop series helps expand DPI’s efforts to develop promising and diverse tech talent in Chicago. Other partners in this initiative include World Business Chicago’s ThinkChicago program and Amazon Web Services. 

Computing is the top source of new wages in the United States, and computer science accounts for most new STEM jobs, according to However, Black and Latinx populations currently make up just 12 to 14% of Chicago’s tech workforce overall, P33 finds, an inequity historically driven largely by uneven access to high quality computer science education opportunities. 

According to recent research by the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Coalition, just one in 14 high school students in Illinois is taking a computer science course in any given year. Chicago Public Schools drives diversity in computer science enrollment in these courses, and districts throughout the state are improving as well. However, enrollment in the most popular CS courses revealed racial/ethnic, gender and socioeconomic disparities in CS participation according to this same research. The workshop series at DPI aim to help close these gaps. 

For the current academic year, more than 400 CPS computer science students attended day-long field trips to DPI’s downtown offices between October and April. As part of these workshop-intensive visits, students received an orientation to Chicago’s vibrant and diverse tech community from World Business Chicago; participated in hands-on learning activities related to computing and design thinking; and heard interactive talks from tech professionals, as well as former CPS students majoring in computer science at Chicago-area universities. Students also learned more about the University of Illinois System and other opportunities to advance their interests in computing and tech. 

“DPI’s program of providing students and teachers from all our Chicago neighborhoods with the opportunity to network and learn from industry professionals brings computer science to life. This experience provides students with an understanding of the breadth of computer science and CS-related jobs in the Chicago area,” says Kris Beck, director of computer science for Chicago Public Schools. “This is the kind of knowledge that can change the lives of our students.” 

In total, DPI hosted nine workshops for students from 11 high schools, an increase from the six workshops hosted in the prior academic year. Participating high schools included Austin College and Career Academy High School, Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, Benito Juarez High School, Chicago Academy High School, Harlan Community Academy, Morgan Park High School, North-Grand High School, Northside College Prep, Phoenix STEM Military Academy, Al Raby High School and Steinmetz College Prep. 

“Doing this work is a privilege,” said Kay Monelle, director of K-12 programs at DPI. “Each field trip experience is different, and we try to ensure students feel a sense of belonging as they enter our space. We are intentional about each component of the field trip and our partners allow us to make this huge impact on students, who in many cases have not yet decided to explore computer-related fields of study. Which is why this work is so vitally important.” 

“ThinkChicago is excited to once again partner with Discovery Partners Institute on this initiative,” said Trenton Dunn, director, ThinkChicago. “These engagement opportunities are instrumental in our collective efforts to cultivate a diverse tech workforce that mirrors the rich tapestry of our city’s population. Providing early exposure to the tech and innovation sectors opens doors for students to explore career pathways that they may not have otherwise considered.” 

“We believe that DPI’s efforts to engage Chicago Public High School students with careers in computer science and cloud services is incredibly important to the future workforce in the region. Inviting our AWS professionals to connect with the students, share their career journeys and lead students through hands-on activities has been impactful not only for our AWS leaders but also for students to meet successful mentors from similar backgrounds and lived experiences,” said Sarah Glavin, head of community affairs for Amazon Chicago. “Students need to see themselves reflected in these career paths to build the skills and confidence to be the future builders of Chicago’s tech community.” 

This program builds on DPI’s suite of programs for K-12, postsecondary and workforce learners as part of its Pritzker Tech Talent Labs. This includes the Digital Explorers program for middle school students; Discover Computing, run in partnership with Wright College and Google, for ninth and tenth graders; the summer Digital Scholars program, in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s CHANCE program, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Grainger College of Engineering, for high school students to take college-level courses in computer science, data science, electrical and computer engineering, and mobile app development; and the CS Starter Academy, a year-round enrichment program for City Colleges of Chicago students pursuing tech pathways.  

To date, these programs have reached more than 2,000 participants, with some individuals returning for further opportunities – 70% of whom self-identified as Black, Latinx, or multiracial, and 36% of whom self-identified as women or nonbinary.