The Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) hosted its inaugural Student Research Showcase on Friday, March 22nd at MxD, the Design and Manufacturing Institute, as a celebration of inquiry and student-mentor collaboration. The Showcase highlighted a selection of the vast student research that has been taking place throughout the 2018-19 academic year over the Mentor Matching Engine (MME). ISTI built MME as an online collaboration tool to connect students with mentors from across the state and nation, safely and securely, anytime, anywhere.

For the past several months, 600 students from 19 Illinois high schools have conducted research projects through MME with the support of more than 200 mentors from across the country. Of these 600 students, 20 were carefully selected through a three-step nomination and application process to present their findings at the first annual Student Research Showcase. The Showcase was designed to give students the opportunity to share their independent research and learn valuable skills such as public speaking, collaboration and networking. Selected students tackled everything from traditional STEM experiments to social science topics of race and gender.

In addition to providing a space to celebrate the research conducted by these students, the Student Research Showcase also brought together students with mentors who they’ve only corresponded with virtually. One of these students was Radha, a student at Glenbard North High School, pictured here with her mentor. Radha and her mentor have been working on her project through the Mentor Matching Engine since November.

Radha and her mentor at the Student Research Showcase Friday, March 22, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. (Taylor Glascock)

Radha’s project analyzed the effect that CEOs of color have on the stock prices of Fortune 500 companies. With the help of her mentor, who has over a decade’s experience in financial services, Radha analyzed stock prices one day, two weeks, and three months after the announcement of a new CEO of color. Looking at a sample size of 100 of the Fortune 500, Radha found that on average, market prices go up.

Another group of students from Illini Bluffs High School studied the effects of positive reinforcement on rats when puzzling through mazes designed by the students. Their mentor was a graduate student studying integrative neuroscience at the University of Chicago, where she works extensively with rats. This kind of direct correlation between mentor expertise and student research allows for a more in-depth mentorship experience.

“The students have been able to reach beyond the walls of my classroom to study topics of interest to them which may not have been possible without the guidance of an expert in the student’s topic of choice,” said Alyssa Walser, the Illini Bluffs teacher utilizing the Mentor Matching Engine in her classroom. “This experience was wonderful for my students and has opened doors for them to possible careers and fields of study that they were not aware of before starting this project.”

Illini Bluffs High School students presenting Student Research Showcase Friday, March 22, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. (Taylor Glascock)

In addition to these broad matches, the Mentor Matching Engine can also connect companies interested in expanding their corporate social responsibility with classrooms of students awaiting mentorship. This year, Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) employees partnered with CPS students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. ADM mentors guided these students through their research projects and provided expertise over MME.

Paola, a student at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, was chosen to present at the Student Research Showcase on her findings around the elasticity and biodegradability of certain plastics. For her experiment, Paola made her own plastics using vegetable oil, coconut oil and olive oil, respectively, and ran the plastics through vigorous tests. If provided more time for her experiment, Paola said she would like to determine the economic feasibility of biodegradable plastics in a larger market.

Because of the hard work and dedication of all of the participating students and mentors, the inaugural Student Research Showcase was a great success. ISTI looks forward to the second annual Student Research Showcase next spring. Mark your calendars!

Paola presenting her research at the Student Research Showcase Friday, March 22, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. (Taylor Glascock)

2018-19 Participating High Schools*

Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School

Bartlett High School

Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences

Disney II Magnet High School

Elk Grove High School

Glenbard East High School

Glenbard North High School

Glenbard West High School

Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy

Highland Park High School

Illini Bluffs High School

Jones College Prep

Lane Tech College Prep

Libertyville High School

Plano High School

Vernon Hills High School

Washington Community High School

Wheeling High School

Whitney M. Young Magnet High School

*Italicized schools were represented at the Student Research Showcase.

ISTI is always looking for mentors. If you’re interested in building the STEM talent pipeline and helping students across the state dive into research, consider mentoring on the Mentor Matching Engine. Contact Sarah Perret-Goluboff at [email protected] for more details.