Oakton College Futures Unlimited Brings Over 400 Students for STEM Exploration

Students from 24 local middle schools participated in the annual event.
Des Plaines, Ill. (Dec. 15, 2023) – Oakton College’s Futures Unlimited program welcomed over 400 eighth-grade students from 24 middle schools, Dec. 14, fostering a day immersed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The annual event, dedicated to young female and gender-expansive students, has become a cornerstone for nurturing curiosity and introducing local students to endless possibilities within STEM fields.

“Math, in my opinion, is a feminist issue,” said Futures Unlimited keynote speaker Eugenia L. Cheng, Ph.D., scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and honorary visiting fellow at City, University of London, UK. “Women are currently not being treated as equals in society. As women, especially women of color, we are expected to be self-sacrificial. I was brought up to believe that I can do whatever I want to do, but I know others have not.”

STEM-related jobs are expected to increase by nearly 800,000 by 2031; more than half of these are projected to be mathematical and computer occupations, according to a recent SmartAsset study. Although STEM jobs are among the highest paying on the job market, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM.

According to the study by Microsoft, the reasons range from peer pressure to a lack of role models and support from parents as well as teachers to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world.

“Very often, girls and gender-expansive students don't receive reinforcements that they belong in STEM and are discouraged from pursuing careers in the field,” said Gloria Liu, Oakton’s grant manager of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics & Health (STEAM-H) and Special Projects. “Our goal today is to nurture curiosity, encouraging female and gender-expansive students to pursue their aspirations in STEM.”

Started over 25 years ago, Futures Unlimited strives to break barriers through engaging activities, interactive sessions, and mentorship opportunities.

This year’s instructors included representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and Northeastern University. The program included 26 workshops, including Take a Cell-fie!; Am I More Human, or More Microbe?; Rube Goldberg Instant Challenge; Build a Battery!; and, Why Did My Goldfish Die?

Do you know a high school student who would like to start their college career while still in high school? Check out Oakton’s Dual Credit and Concurrent Enrollment programs on Oakton’s website to see which option is right for them.