February 11th, 2014

Inspiring High-Achieving Chicago-Area Teens to Lead and Serve through STEM and to Pursue Higher Education

In today’s rapidly changing world, science, engineering, technology, and critical issues related to our global environment are evolving at a dramatic pace. Yet the worldwide demand for college graduates prepared for careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is not being met. This is especially true in the United States, where many of our most promising youth do not pursue opportunities in these areas. One of the most important national resources in the 21st Century and beyond will be talent: smart, sophisticated young people who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile; who both understand the complexity of the greatest challenges facing our global society and have technical expertise in specialized areas; and who possess the abilities to collaborate, innovate, and lead.

Scholars apply “design thinking” frameworks to analyze, situate, and prototype to address various problems of relevance. Photograph by Dan Kasberger, Chicago.


Our Program

The Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) Boeing Scholars Academy is a FREE, TWO-YEAR academic enrichment program that inspires high-achieving Chicago-area high school students to make a difference in their communities through STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and to pursue higher education.

We do this by offering:

  • four weeks of intensive, project-based STEM programming each summer—in 2012, themed “Local Action, Broader Impact”
  • workshops, field trips, and career exploration opportunities during the school year
  • guidance and support in developing leadership projects (junior year only)
  • college advising and application assistance (senior year only)

We admit students during their sophomore year for participation during their junior and senior years (enrolled Scholars make a two-year commitment to the program). We serve 100 total juniors and seniors at a time.

Founded in 2011, the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy is generously supported by a grant from the Boeing Company.


IIT Boeing Scholars 2013-14 ProfileLearn about our recent Scholars and their accomplishments with our 2013-14 program profile. (Recommended for representatives of colleges, high schools, and other organizations.)




What We Offer

IIT Boeing Scholars gain valuable exposure to STEM majors and careers as well as guidance along the path to college, through participation in the following components of the annual program:


Photograph by Michael Goss.

4-Week Summer Session (Non-Residential)

in 2013, weekdays Monday, July 1-Friday, July 26, 9am-4pm

All 100 juniors and seniors come together to engage in a variety of hands-on group projects, lectures, labs, and field trips oriented toward an interdisciplinary theme, like “Challenging Our Borders, Reshaping Our World” (2013), “Local Action, Broader Impact” (2012), and “Cities of the Future” (2011).

Scholars investigate STEM problems in a social context, and are asked to consider both quantitative and qualitative factors when proposing solutions. Past projects have addressed such diverse topics as food deserts, mercury emissions, diabetes treatment, renewable energy, natural disaster response, sustainable land use, and the role of science in policy-making.

Through projects and dedicated workshops, Scholars develop essential problem-solving, communication, team-building, and leadership skills.


Academic-Year Session (August-May)

Scholars continue their involvement throughout the academic year by attending at least three program events (e.g., workshops, field trips, job shadows) each semester. In addition:

  • Juniors collaborate in teams to develop and implement Leadership Grant Projects (LGPs) of their own design. Guided by Project Mentors, Scholars are empowered to create opportunities in their communities through LGPs.
    • LGPs developed in 2012-13 raised awareness of environmental issues, built systems to filter and then irrigate with rainwater, led fun hands-on STEM projects with youth, created videos to model healthy eating habits for peers, and more!
    • Juniors who demonstrate active engagement throughout the academic year continue on to the senior program.
  • Seniors apply to college with support from program staff, participating in essay workshops, mock-interviews, a “live” admissions event with partner organization Chicago Scholars, and more.
    • Of Scholars in the Class of 2012, 98% matriculated at a four-year university in fall 2012; the remaining 2% enrolled at two-year institutions with intent to transfer. We expect similar percentages of the Class of 2013 to do the same.

Scholars participate in a Model UN-style negotiation simulation to learn about science-policy interactions in the context of global environmental treaty-making.


Our Approach

Our program places a strong emphasis on fostering community and valuing participants’ voices. We conduct brainstorming sessions and focus groups to ensure that our projects and themes are relevant and exciting to Scholars. By addressing the “so what?” (real-world problems and their significance to teens) before focusing on the “what” (STEM content and skills), we engage Scholars’ existing knowledge, inquiry, and motivation, as well as help them find their way forward (“now what?”) and develop a sense of purpose.

On our end-of-year survey, 98% of Scholars indicated that the program was overall a rewarding experience.


About Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)

Illinois Institute of Technology is a national, technological, Ph.D.-granting research university, with world-renowned programs in engineering, architecture, the sciences, humanities, psychology, business, law, and design. Founded in 1940 and tracing its roots back to the 1890s with the foundings of Armour Institute of Technology and Lewis Institute, IIT brings a focused, interdisciplinary approach to education, including the Interprofessional Projects Program. With five campuses throughout the Chicago area and alumni around the world, IIT pairs the educational and cultural experiences of America’s Second City with the small feel of an undergraduate population of just over 2300 and total population of just over 7400.


IIT’s Commitment to Diversity

Illinois Institute of Technology is a community that values and respects its members. We appreciate that our faculty, staff, students, alumni/ae and trustees come from many backgrounds and many parts of the world. We embrace the contributions that differences offer. We are committed to providing a working and learning environment in which all students and all members of the faculty and staff are able to realize their full potential.



Although IIT has a long history of hosting academic summer programs, we would like to acknowledge the leadership, guidance, and/or inspiration in these areas that other universities — particularly, MIT, the University of Chicago, Rutgers, and the Johns Hopkins University — have provided. We are grateful for these and other university partners and celebrate our shared work with youth.

Marya 02a

Marya Spont-Lemus, Founding Program Director

As founding Program Director, Marya Spont-Lemus oversaw all aspects of planning, developing, and implementing the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy. She served as the Program Director since the Academy’s founding in January 2011 until August 2013. Running an academic enrichment program for high school students has been a dream of Marya’s since before she was in high school herself, and she is honored have done so with the collaboration of such a talented Program Instruction team and such inspiring IIT Boeing Scholars! She is currently working with the University of Chicago Charter Schools and the university’s Arts Incubator in Washington Park, developing community arts programming for youth as well as broader arts education strategies between the spaces.

Marya has presented at national and state conferences — on topics such as college access, summer learning, school-community collaborations, and media arts education — and published original research on interdisciplinary education. In her free time, she serves on advisory boards for a few non-profits, reads, writes, makes things, and endeavors to enable a more equitable society.

We are forever indebted to Marya for her endless dedication and passion for the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy and creating opportunities for Chicago youth.



Connie Ma - Former Program Coordinator

Connie Ma, Former Program Coordinator

Connie Ma, who joined the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy team as a Program Coordinator in March 2012, departed in early

September 2013 for a year of traveling in Asia and Europe before beginning graduate school in public policy in the fall of 2014. She

came to IIT from the Chinese American Service League (CASL), a social service agency in Chinatown, where she worked as the Assistant to the President in external relations and development. She is strongly passionate and curious about all things involving education, social and urban issues, immigration, and public policy.

Outside of work, she enjoys amateur photography, travel, cooking, learning languages, and checking out ten books at a time from the Chicago Public Library. She also loves the creative process of teaching and facilitating learning.

We are honored to have had her experience and enthusiasm help to shape the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy.