Science and Engineering Program celebrates 10 years

Supporters Llewellyn Miller (L) and James D. Montgomery with founder Kenneth Hill (middle).

Contributing writer

The Chicago Science and Engineering program has celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Kenneth Hill, CEO of the program, brought it here in 2008. He had successfully launched a similar program in Detroit in 1976.

“We were able to connect with Ford, GM and Chrysler,” he said of the programs start in Detroit. “We were able to pull together a core group of people who believed in the mission.”

Hill, who lives in Hyde Park, graduated from Tilden High School and went on to Howard University where he obtained a BS in civil engineering.

“i have this commitment because I was born here,” Hill said.

Hill retired in 2004 and was invited to come to Chicago to try to duplicate the original program.

“I failed at retirement,” he said. “People kept wanting me to start a high school program.”

Hill wasn’t interested in that audience. The program he developed was a kindergarten through third grade program. It exposes students to science and engineering, and it meets on Saturdays, four times in the spring and four times in the fall. There also is a four-week summer program. Each session is three hours long.

Students learn calculus in grade school.

Hill said the program started to expand due to word of mouth. He already had connections with General Motors, National Science Foundation and Kellogg.

The first cohort of students are now in the tenth grade of high school and attend Whitney Young, Lindblom and Walter Payton.

Hill said the program is parent-based and not school-based.

“The parents and kids are together learning side-by-side. When the parent is side-by-side with the child, they’re more effective as parents,” he said. “Parents are learning skills with science and math concepts.”

William Penn has two children in the program. His daughter Maia Penn is a 10th grader and part of the first groups of students in ChiS&E. His son, William Penn, Jr., is in sixth grade.

“I’m a big proponent of STEM, women in STEM,” he said. “I thought the program would be good for her.” Penn said he has seen how his children have improved with the program, and he said he is excited to see what will happen with the students once they graduate from high school.

“Seeing if it is going to come to fruition when this crop of sophomores graduates and actually becomes engineers. That will show if what he’s saying and what he’s doing is working.”

Hill said it is his goal to get support from Chicago Public Schools and he is working on developing relationships with Kenwood Academy and South Shore High School.

“We know what’s going to happen when they get to University,” he said. “We’re very excited about the next 10 years.”