North Chicago Community High School Students advance to statewide competition on April 27
Utilizing shelter dogs to provide companionship and comfort for cancer patients. An education website for K-12 youth struggling with cancer, focused on helping them graduate. A mobile app that helps patients navigate their illness and informs family and friends of their daily struggles.
These are just a few of the innovative ideas hatched by students from North Chicago Community High School  (NCCHS) after working with mentors from AbbVie  as part of the Illinois Science & Technology Institute’s (ISTI) STEM Challenge . Teams comprised of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors were charged to find creative, realistic ways to provide support for cancer patients in low income communities — whether through IT, engineering or collaboration with healthcare providers.
“The ISTI STEM Challenge provides our students the opportunity to interact with business professionals and solve an authentic problem,” says Jeff Hollenstein, Director of Career Pathways, NCCHS. “It allows students to see what a STEM career may look like, and these opportunities that do not readily come in a traditional classroom setting.”
The students and mentors worked together over four months to identify problem areas, imagine new ideas, develop research and design plans, and ultimately present a solution to the challenge.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with North Chicago students on real world oncology challenges,” says Melissa Walsh, Vice President, AbbVie Foundation . “As mentors, we have been inspired by the students’ creativity, ability to solve problems and the way that they’ve shown compassion in understanding cancer patients.”
In North Chicago, the educational challenges are daunting. The district faces debilitating funding problems, and many of the students it serves live in poverty. But through the strength of the community, and the talent and compassion of the district’s teachers and leaders, North Chicago High School is making incredible strides. AbbVie is honored to partner with the city of North Chicago in a variety of ways, from programs to promote literacy to employee volunteer efforts to renovate local libraries, classrooms and playgrounds. The STEM Challenge was a particularly exciting opportunity for AbbVie employees, who were able to share their passion for research and medicine with the potential science leaders of tomorrow.
“Through the STEM Challenge, AbbVie provided an invaluable and unforgettable learning opportunity for the students of North Chicago,” says Jennifer Grumhaus, Executive Director, North Chicago Community Partners. “It was a privilege to be a part of their journey and to see just how much this experience impacted and affirmed all who participated.”
The NCCHS students were divided into 25 teams, and the top 10 teams presented their solution on Thursday, April 13, to a team of judges representing North Chicago Community Partners , the City of North Chicago , AbbVie, Northwestern Medical Group  and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science .
The Honorable Leon Rockingham, Mayor, City of North Chicago, says, “On behalf of the city of North Chicago, I want to congratulate you for your courage. It takes courage to get up on the stage and present as a high school student, and I am proud of you.”
The high school’s award winners were Donard Brown, Kaisha Johnson, Cesiah Flores, Monserrat Gonzalez and Joel Ocampo, and this team will go on to statewide Student Showcase in Chicago on April 27, 2017.
“Our mission at ISTI is to better connect students to careers in STEM fields by building partnerships that bring companies together with classrooms,” says Mark Harris, President and CEO, Illinois Science and Technology Institute. “When we build a pipeline of young professionals, we invest in Illinois’ future innovators.”