UAMAG Teams Up With STEM Illinois The Nobel Project To Help Local Youth Reach Their Dreams

Updated: May 4

By Tanya Parker and Ruby Mendenhall


Below are the featured submissions of six NOBEL project students that shared their dreams. Students chose graphics images that are expressions of themselves.

The land-grant mission of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is to broadly share new knowledge and advances in research to communities across the state of Illinois. STEM ILLINOIS is one of the University’s community-centered and intergenerational public engagement initiatives that is providing unprecedented access to STEM and arts activities. A component of this public engagement initiative is the STEM Illinois Nobel Project which is funded by the National Science Foundation.



The Nobel Project seeks to foster a computer science identity among students of color and first generation youth in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and the farming community of Pembroke IL. The Nobel project exposes children and their parents to the field of computer science and its applications through computer science activities, mentors, robotics, satellites, TEDxYouth talks and make-a-thons. The Nobel project is a pathway program to computer science, the college of medicine, fine and applied arts and other disciplines.


Submission by Deven Frierson, 1st place, Nobel Project

The Nobel Project is collaborating with Unity in Action Magazine, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and other community partners to help youth reach their dreams regarding STEM and art careers. The Noble Project is headed by Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Democratization of Health Innovation at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine (CI MED) and Associate Professor in Sociology and African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to help youth reach their DREAMs.


They were the first group of middle and high school students ever to engage this software that has only been used by geographers, computer scientists and their college students.

“Our young people have a great capacity to learn computer science skills and to apply those skills to solve social and health problems. We look forward to providing opportunities that foster their gifts and genius. Our goal is to encourage thinking outside the box that is often associated with Nobel Laureates.” — Ruby Mendenhall



In fall 2020, The Nobel scholars were then encouraged to enter a Community Mapping Make-a-Thon where they participated in Shaowen Wang’s Geospatial Software Institute (GSI) Conceptualization Project that is studying how vulnerable groups, such as people of color and those in poverty, are affected by COVID-19. The GIS project is also planning to use the knowledge from the studies to consider solutions to the pandemic. The Nobel scholars were granted unprecedented access to CyberGIS software. They were the first group of middle and high school students ever to engage this software that has only been used by geographers and computer scientists and their college students. As an introduction to community mapping, the Nobel scholars drew maps of their communities. They then received training on the CyberGIS software by Rebecca Vandewalle, a graduate student in geography. The Nobel scholars then were encouraged to use the CyberGIS software to create community maps and to think about how to address some of the challenges associated with COVID-19 in their neighborhoods. Diana Grisby-Toussaint, an epidemiologist at Brown University, also provided the Nobel Scholars with information about her role in tracking the spread of the COVID-19 and thinking about solutions. The Nobel scholars were then encouraged to enter a Community Mapping Make-A-Thon where they created solutions to problems associated with the pandemic and competed for cash prizes (1st was $300, 2nd was $200 and 3rd was $100). They submitted amazing ideas that involved expanding COVID-19 testing sites in grocery stores and pharmacies and providing free personal protective equipment such as masks on every block. Some of the Nobel Scholars used CyberGIS to create their community maps with solutions to COVID-19 pressing problems.

CyberGIS Map by Siri Polk



How can we use mapping to address COVID?

"This would help Senior Citizens if they can't go out and into the stores. I wanted to make a map of where there would be masks in the neighborhood. That way if people needed to get masks they didn’t have to go into stores, and risk getting COVID. Also if someone who had COVID. but didn’t know it went into a store to buy a mask they would spread it. I think this will help, by people not needing to go into stores to buy masks, when they need them. Also people who might have COVID, but do not know, if they don't have masks they will spread COVID. But if they are able to get masks without having to go in stores and not only endanger other people, but also make it worse for themselves. If they could avoid going into stores, they would lower the risk for everyone by a bit." Siri Polk.


After the community mapping segment of the Nobel Project, students learned how to develop resiliency toolkits. Karen Simms from the Trauma Resiliency Initiative, Inc. taught the Nobel scholars how stress affects their brains, bodies and emotions and how to foster their well-being. The Nobel scholars learned about creating legacy wealth from Dr. Pamela Jolly, CEO of Torch Enterprise, Inc. Dr. Jolly discussed the importance of understanding their roots by interviewing their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The Nobel Scholars will continue to build their resiliency toolkits and legacy wealth throughout the program.


Karen Simms from the Trauma Resiliency Initiative, Inc. taught the Nobel scholars how stress affects their brains, emotions and health and how to foster their well-being.


Tanya Parker from Unity in Action Magazine is currently working with the Nobel scholars to help them explore careers in the Art Sciences and to demonstrate the applications of computer science in the arts. The Nobel scholars learned the science behind graphic design that involved understanding how different colors and fonts set different tones for the graphic and ultimately the reader. Ms. Parker worked with the scholars to use graphic designs and other tools to create a DREAM incubator.


The DREAM incubator involves having students state their most audacious goals and matching them with mentors who can provide them with current opportunities related to their DREAMs and help them to start achieving their goals in the long-term. The objective is to have students see themselves as computer scientists, physicians, graphic designers, etc. and to develop a portfolio of experiences related to their DREAMs staring now!


Tanya Parker from Unity in Action Magazine is working with youth to explore careers in the Art Sciences. Students started learning the computer science behind graphic design. They studied the different emotional messages and that can be created based on the selection of color and font.


Other Nobel Project students that participated in the DREAM Incubator- Graphic Design contest include: Diana Rivas, Hector Davila, Adam Delong, Jeremiah Mack, Devon Frierson, Tori Harvey, Nicholas Wilson, Siri Polk, and Logan Walford.



The Nobel Project is a collaboration between STEM Illinois, Carle IIlinois College of Medicine, departments/units and community partners: Tanya Parker (Founder of Unity in Action Magazine), Barbara Gillespie (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technical and Scientific Olympic/ACT-SO), Margarita Teran-Garcia (Division of Nutritional Sciences and Extension Hispanic Health Programs), Keith obs (4-H and STEM, Extension), Katina Wilcher (CommUniversity), Joe Bradley (Bioengineering and College of Business), LaTonya Webb (Business Community Economic Development), La`Keisha Sewell (CI MED), Theresa Robinson (Girls Like Me), Pamela Jolly (Torch Enterprises Inc.), Jifunza Wright-Carter (Black Oaks Center, Pembroke), Brenda Miles (Pembroke Township Supervisor), Johari Cole (Pembroke Farmers Cooperative and Pembroke Farming Family), Siebel Center for Design (Rachel Switzky, Kendra Wieneke, Amada Henderson, Lucas O’Bryan and Elisabeth Braits), and Simon Fraser University in Canada (Kelly Nolan, Fred Popowhich, Lydia Odilinye and Fatou Sarr).


Reference: By Innes, Elizabeth, http://www.istem.illinois.edu/news/nobel.project.20.html


Tanya Parker

contact@unityinactionmagazine.com