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City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) and the University of Chicago (UChicago) are joining forces at an institutional level to strengthen STEM education and career opportunities and create a more diverse field of professionals entering the sciences.

A Memorandum of Understanding executed by the two institutions aims to ensure that innovation in the rapidly changing fields of science and technology benefits from a wide range of perspectives and experiences.

A CCC data science degree program and a preceptorship program with the Data Science Institute are among the first initiatives being developed from the collaboration.

Established as a strategic CCC growth priority based on input from industry leaders, the program will reflect the knowledge and expertise of both UChicago and City Colleges faculty.

While the number of STEM degrees awarded nationally has grown in recent years, diversity among degree earners has lagged. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, in 2018, Latinx students earned 12% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the United States in STEM fields, and Black students earned just 7%. The same analysis found that in graduate programs in these fields Black students were still underrepresented. At U.S. academic institutions in 2019, Black students made up just 6.8% of all enrollees in master’s degree programs, 3.7% of all doctoral programs, and just 1.6% of postdoctoral researchers in science, engineering, and health fields.

City Colleges of Chicago students learn in a wet lab in Abbott Memorial Hall on Friday, August 21, 2021. Photography by Eddie Quinones.

The new institutional partnership builds on existing initiatives designed to increase the number of City Colleges students earning degrees in the sciences and advancing into STEM fields. A molecular engineering course at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) taught exclusively for CCC students, for instance, was designed to open pathways for those students to transfer into four-year STEM degree programs.

UChicago President, Paul Alivisatos highlighted the importance of diverse perspectives and partnerships during his October inauguration, calling diversity “the practical key to understanding the world around us, and to solving problems to the benefit of our society.”

The new UChicago-CCC agreement, Alivisatos said, is a critical mechanism for achieving that scope of thought. The partnership “provides an opportunity for us to deepen our engagement with more students across Chicago and to create more pathways for them into STEM careers,” he said. “Our commitment to inquiry and innovation inspires us to help strengthen these fields by expanding the breadth of scholarly perspectives that advance them.”

“This relationship is about harnessing two of our city’s higher education assets to create unprecedented opportunities and, ultimately, a more inclusive economy,” said City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado. “With this collaboration agreement, we increase our capacity as an institution to be responsive to our community. We’ll not only create new pathways and internship opportunities for our students, but we’ll also build a pipeline of educators prepared to teach in new and emerging STEM fields. It promises to be transformative not only for our students but for our faculty — and for the students and faculty of the University of Chicago as well.”

“Our future truly lies in those studying and working in STEM fields, so it’s important that this field represent diverse perspectives,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “I am thrilled to see two of our city’s important institutions come together to strengthen and expand opportunities in this industry. The UChicago-CCC collaboration will empower the next generation of scholars and professionals and strengthen our city’s standing as a global destination for innovation in the sciences.”

“As a scientist and early advocate of diversity in STEM, I am very proud to see UChicago and City Colleges working together to inspire and prepare Chicago students, especially those historically underrepresented in STEM, to launch transformative careers,” said Walter E. Massey, City Colleges of Chicago Board Chair.

To generate new opportunities for collaboration between City Colleges and UChicago, academic and administrative representatives from each institution will serve on a leadership committee and convene annually with the President and Chancellor to advance innovative initiatives.

The institutions will collaborate on new projects, with a focus on four key areas of partnership.

  • Education: UChicago faculty and staff will advise CCC on curriculum and academic program design in the sciences, and the two institutions will collaborate on creating fellowships, internships, and other programs to bring CCC students to the UChicago campus and vice versa.
  • Research: UChicago and CCC faculty will collaborate on faculty-led research initiatives and share any findings that collaboration generates.
  • Employment pathways: Together, UChicago and CCC will develop new programs and grow existing ones to increase the number of science-focused internships, apprenticeships, and certificate programs available to CCC students.
  • Civic engagement: UChicago and CCC will collaborate on ways to engage both institutions’ students in the full range of educational opportunities they offer and to advance inclusive innovation in higher education and the sciences.

The collaboration agreement aims to widen the partnership over time by identifying, creating, and accelerating new joint initiatives focused on research and education opportunities for students and faculty in the sciences — including the physical, social, and biological sciences.

New degree programs in growing fields

One challenge for the relatively new data science field is that programs face a shortage of faculty trained to teach the subject. To address the issue, UChicago and CCC collaborated on an innovative solution that benefits faculty and students at both institutions: a teaching fellowship that will provide recent Ph.D. graduates in data science, mathematics, statistics, computer science, and other STEM fields with mentorship and teaching instruction as preparation for dual teaching appointments at the University and CCC.

Apply here for the UChicago/CCC Data Science Preceptorship Program.

As CCC works to build new degree programs in the sciences, the fellowship will help the institutions concurrently build a pipeline of instructors to teach in these programs. In the program’s first year, two to three fellows will be hired to start teaching at the beginning of the 2022–23 academic year.

“A strong understanding of data science will be essential across countless fields in the coming years and this collaboration will ensure our next generation of data scientists will not only be able to analyze and apply data but also incorporate new perspectives and lived experience into solving critical real-world problems,” said Angela V. Olinto, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division at UChicago.

Developing new programs is the start of an effort that both institutions plan to eventually expand into disciplines such as quantum science and engineering and the physical, social, and biological sciences.