Needy Students Get Sample of Higher Learning Wheaton College Hosts Science Program

By Chase, John | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Needy Students Get Sample of Higher Learning Wheaton College Hosts Science Program


Chase, John, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: John Chase Daily Herald Staff Writer

On any other summer day, Corina Hernandez would be helping out at her father's Mexican restaurant on Chicago's West Side.

But on Tuesday, the 18-year-old Juarez High School student was at Wheaton College, readying herself to explode a balloon filled with hydrogen.

With a candle perched at the end of a yardstick, Hernandez slowly moved closer to the exceptionally flammable blue balloon - a tiny version of the Hindenburg.

As she drew closer, the others in the lab placed their fingers in their ears and started to squint.

The wick's flame then touched the blue rubber. And in a nano-second, a "woosh" filled the room, with fire escaping the balloon in a flash and disappearing even faster.

For Hernandez, the chemistry experiment was a success. And it sure beat toiling at the restaurant.

"That was just really great," Hernandez said. "It's fun, you learn and I know it's going to help me when I get to college."

This month, Hernandez and 15 other budding scientists from some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods are blowing up hydrogen balloons, dissecting animals and learning what college life is like as part of a special program at Wheaton College.

The program, dubbed Project Soar, helps some of the Chicago Public School's best minority high schoolers interested in science develop their skills on a higher level.

"These are the kids who are achieving despite not always being in really strong high schools," said professor Helene Slessarev, a project founder. "Here, some of them are seeing a microscope for the very first time. At their home school it was all textbook learning."

During the program, students take heavy-duty biology and chemistry classes taught by college professors or high school teachers. They also take math and English classes to round out their lessons.

Selected from nearly 150 applicants, this group is now in its second and final summer of the program.

The college started the project five years ago after receiving a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an organization that wants to attract and retain more minorities into the sciences.

"This is a population not involved in the sciences as much as they should be," said Rodney Sisco, another project founder and the college's minority affairs director. …

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