Speer Academy students at a recent robotics competition. | Submitted photo

ITW David Speer Academy, a Noble Charter School campus located in the Belmont Cragin community, recently announced a partnership with Northwestern University that entails the two schools offering a full-ride scholarship each year to a qualifying high school senior who wants to pursue a STEM-related degree in college. The inaugural scholarship will go to a member of the 2017-18 graduating class who is admitted to Northwestern.

 “ITW has been a longstanding supporter of Northwestern Engineering and of STEM education more broadly,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University.

“Their support of this scholarship at Northwestern helps further our shared interest in improving the number of Chicago-area students who choose science and engineering programs,” he said. “We are proud to have them as a partner.”

During the 2015-16 school year, Speer earned Chicago Public Schools’ highest rating, Level +1, while serving a predominantly low-income student population.

Jordan Kruger, an assistant principal at Speer, said 2,000 students applied, but only 800 were accepted, to the school last year. He said admittance isn’t based on any tests and that all students who attend a CPS school are eligible to apply.

Jeanette Kerr, a college counselor at Speer, has taken the expression “year-round education” and supercharged it as a means to prepare her students for opportunities like NU’s scholarship offer as part of Speer’s Summer of a Lifetime (SOL) program.

SOL strives to match students’ passions with a collegial summer program. Last summer, Kerr helped 200 students attend college programs at 48 different colleges across the country. This year, she’s working on sending 496. She said getting parents’ buy-in is the most critical component to making SOL trips happen.

“I’m as competitive as anyone in this school, so I always go for the best, most selective programs,” said Kerr.

Kerr said her goal is to assist her students get into as many collegial summer programs outside of Chicago as possible. For example, in a few months, Speer students will attend summer programs at Stanford University and John Hopkins University for the second consecutive summer.

“My focus is to get students outside of Chicago, because we know that there are opportunities here but that there are students who have never left the city,” she said. “When it comes to STEM, it’s not about being exposed to STEM as a discipline and career field option, but it’s also about what the world can give you.”

Speer sophomore Bruce Smith, an Austin resident with an interest in software engineering, has taken full advantage of the SOL program. With the assistance of Kerr and his mother, Smith wrote an impassioned letter to the University of Missouri to participate in one of their summer programs.

Smith said he wrote about how receiving a STEM education and attending Speer has elevated him into being a better student and person.

“Kerr wanted me to go deeper,” Smith said. “She thought I was beating around the bush so I looked at the [letter] prompt again and answered it. The opportunity to be at a STEM school is hard to put into words. You feel like you’re the future.” 

 “You don’t work in schools unless it’s your vocation, this has to be a calling first of all, and when you see a student like Bruce, you see all the potential, hard-work, and his commitment and engagement to school it makes it even easier to find opportunities for students like him and say, ‘Ok, you can do this’,” said Kerr.