Supporting a Community’s Informal Education Needs: Confidence and Empowerment in STEM

Located in Chicago’s Fuller Park neighborhood, Eden Place Nature Center is a nature oasis on a site that was formerly an illegal dumpsite. In 2013, the Chicago Zoological Society expanded a partnership with Eden Place and launched Supporting a Community’s Informal Education Needs: Confidence and Empowerment in STEM (SCIENCES). The initiative, funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, provided a suite of environmentally-focused science learning opportunities. Comprised of community and church leaders, academic researchers, and Chicago Public School principals, an advisory council guided development of programs with relevancy to the community in topics such as water conservation and pollinators. Programming included early childhood nature play, child, family, and project-based teen learning programs; adult workshops; school and youth group classes; and teacher professional development. The overarching goal of SCIENCES was to improve environmental science literacy and gain insight into how this project could serve as a model for other partnerships in neighborhoods around the country.

The Nature of community

In The Nature of Community: SCIENCES, we share the lessons learned from an innovative partnership designed to leverage the strengths of two nonprofit organizations—a large cultural institution and a smaller, deeply-rooted community-based organization, both of which offer informal science education expertise. You’ll read first-hand reflections of how staff members, community leaders and members, children, and adults experienced this partnership: the expectations, surprises, challenges, successes, and lessons learned. We hope the description of this partnership inspires other organizations to reach outside of their comfort zones, to try something new, to falter, to listen and learn, to collaborate, to build on complementary strengths, and ultimately to reinforce connections to nature and science wherever you live.

Suggested citation:

Breen Bartecki, S., Kelly, L.-A.D., & Marks, T. (2019). The nature of community. SCIENCES: Supporting a Community’s Informal Education Needs—Confidence and Empowerment in STEM. Brookfield, IL: Chicago Zoological Society.


SCIENCES: Supporting a Community’s Informal Education Needs – Confidence & Empowerment in STEM. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 1323280. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.