Nightly News   |  June 21, 2013

Building a love for science both in (and out) of the classroom

A Chicago program called Project Exploration is helping low-income kids discover practical applications for science, math and engineering by introducing them to careers they might not ordinarily have considered. NBC’s Rehema Ellis reports.

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>>> we are back with our "education nation" report and what might be the definition of a teachable moment for those trying to raise math and science performance among our students. in chicago , they're making some big gains by making these subjects more real, more relevant. our report tonight from our chief education correspondent rehema ellis.

>> reporter: school's out, but learning continues for these students, all part of project explorati exploration, a program offering hands-on lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math known as stem subjects to some of chicago 's most vulnerable public school students. the majority are black and hispanic from tough, low-income communities.

>> children need the opportunity to connect finance, math, to real careers and jobs.

>> reporter: they learn from field work and from the pros about medicine, geology, wildlife, even paleontology, and forensics like this lesson in fingerprinting with lisa gilchrist, a special wis the illinois state police .

>> this is your fingerprint?

>> yep.

>> reporter: about 1,500 students have participated in after-school and summer programs, and more than half of those who graduate from college get degrees in stem-related fields. at aerial community academy, they study infrastructure, natural disasters .

>> like if there's a tornado, how to build a safe place for people to go.

>> reporter: even the science of sweets.

>> and the ice cream wasn't really as good as i thought it would be.

>> reporter: but you ate it anyway?

>> yeah.

>> reporter: gabrielle lyon co-founded the program 14 years ago with the goal of giving every student access to stem learning.

>> i found my whole hand.

>> if you only focus on students in the top 10%, if you only focus on students who have the economic means to pay for programs, you're leaving 85% of the population behind. and that's just not going to work.

>> reporter: would you think about having a career in science?

>> i would like to be a forensic scientist .

>> reporter: really.

>> just like lisa.

>> it warms my heart. it makes me think that somehow in some small way maybe i've made a difference.

>> reporter: helping kids put a face on their dreams.

>> i'm starting to feel like the detectives on " law and order ."

>> reporter: and backing it up with science. rehema ellis, nbc news, chicago .