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The Digital Explorers program will build interest in computing and tech fields; enhance more diversity into tech pathways

The Discovery Partners Institute, part of the University of Illinois System, today announced its first program for middle school students in partnership with Wilbur Wright College, and with support from Apple and CME Group Foundation.

The Digital Explorers Program will expand DPI’s efforts to develop promising and diverse tech talent in Chicago.

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

The Digital Explorers program will be offered to students in grades six to eight on Saturdays at DPI’s downtown offices across two sessions. Session one will run from Jan. 21 to Feb. 25 and session two is from April 15 to May 20. The program is free, and transit cards and lunch are provided. Students will develop computer science skills by coding and building a mobile app using Swift Playgrounds on iPad. Students will also take part in team building activities and solve problems with human centered design thinking.

A special part of the program model for Digital Explorer students is the opportunity to engage with high school and City College near peer mentors, who will provide coaching and support to the students, while also working to further develop their own mobile app skills. This includes eight high school near peer mentors who were recruited from DPI’s summer Digital Scholars program, in addition to Wright College engineering and computer science students, who will be paid an hourly stipend.

Approximately 38 students are participating in the program, including mentors. While the application process is closed, interested students and parents are encouraged to complete the interest form.

“We are thrilled to be growing our programming for younger students to provide more exposure and learning opportunities to computing and tech skills,” said Gina Grant, associate director of K-9 student programming at DPI. “We’re also excited that this program has a workforce component which allows our high school students to move from learners to leaders in computer science. We are grateful for our partnership with Apple and CME Group as we work collectively to make Chicago the most inclusive tech workforce.”

“DPI will provide equity of access to computer science coursework, supporting greater diversity and more learning opportunities in technology-based career tracks,” said Eva Giglio, executive director of CME Group Foundation. “We are pleased to collaborate with DPI and Apple to build stronger STEM pathways for students across Chicago, who will gain the fundamental knowledge needed to serve as future leaders in computer science.”

This program builds on DPI’s suite of programs for K-12 and community college students as part of its Pritzker Tech Talent Labs Community Education Unit. This includes Discover Computing, in partnership with Wright College and Google, to help ninth and tenth graders build interest in pursuing computer science and tech careers; and 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 computer science courses for credit, as well as courses in data science, electrical and computer engineering, and mobile app development.

These programs have reached more than 315 students to date – 75% of which self-identified as Black or Latinx, and 38% of which self-identified as women or non-binary. DPI anticipates reaching more than 550 students in its 2022-23 program year, with a continued focus on underrepresented populations in tech.

Please contact DPI’s Community Education Unit {} for more information.