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Summer STEAM Activities for Evanston Youths

From Our Neighborhood News, Fall 2021

Evanston’s first Summer Fest, a seven-week STEAM program, took place this year at Butler Park, giving middle school children the chance to explore everything from flying drones to woodworking. Supported by Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and the Digital Youth Network, the initiative was a community-wide effort by the McGaw YMCA and the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department.

The STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) activities were designed “to spark creativity, build social skills, and help create an environment where such activities are as commonplace as basketball,” says Nichole Pinkard, associate professor of learning sciences. “It’s a unique collaboration among Evanston organizations to bring programming to the Fifth Ward, which has the citys largest population of children of color.”

SESP faculty designed learning activities, such as SportSense creator Marcelo Worsley’s program wherein youth playing sports could track their own health data via wearable sensors. Some activities led by local entrepreneurs included podcasting, with Meleika Gardner of Evanston Live TV, and learning to DJ, with Evanston’s Corey Bless.

“We wanted to socially expose students to STEAM in a way that’s not school,” says Miranda Standberry-Wallace, SESP community engagement and relations manager. “Students could choose the activities that interest them.”

Activities were led by college-age “STEAM-bassadors and mentors from the citys youth employment program. SESP researchers trained the mentors. 

Butler Park Summer Fest ultimately served more than 500 youth and families in partnership with community organizations, civic leaders, minority-owned businesses, churches, and neighbors of the park.

“We had community folks participate—just people coming from their houses,” Standberry-Wallacesays. “Enthusiasm was phenomenal.”