The Caterpillar Foundation believes that expanding access to STEM education in under-served communities in the US and around the world will equip students with the right skills and knowledge to thrive.
One example of the power of access to STEM education is Operation Calculus (OC), a unique summer bridge program designed to provide math enrichment for disadvantaged African American and minority high school students in the Decatur (IL) Public School District.
The Decatur Public School District is based in Central Illinois, serving nearly 9,000 students, 75 percent from low or very-low income homes. There is a significant academic achievement gap between African American and Caucasian students. This gap is the widest in mathematics, and is consistent for both basic, lower-level math classes. Many students often feel intimidated by the prospect of more challenging courses.
Students here often lack academic support at home and face further challenges in graduating high school and seeking future employment possibilities. Participation in OC challenges them to engage and perform at a high level in mathematics, increasing their likelihood to graduate on time and pursue higher education or employment.
OC is a targeted effort that not only improves performance but builds confidence in students who otherwise would avoid enrolling in challenging courses like calculus. As a result of this program:
- More African American students are enrolling in advanced courses and have maintained enrollment throughout the year.
- Students have raised their grades by 10 percent or more.
- Students have maintained their previous letter grade even after enrolling in a higher-level course.
- Students develop both academic and soft skills, identifying individual strengths and weaknesses that help shape viable career paths.
- Students gain exposure to employment prospects in STEM fields.
Since the program’s inception in 2013, one hundred percent of the seniors passing through the program have both graduated and been accepted into a college or university. Graduating seniors from the 2019-2020 academic year have earned nearly $2 million in scholarship offers from academic institutions and community scholarship programs.
Due to the success seen in Decatur’s high schools, OC has expanded to Decatur’s middle schools to support capable students struggling to master core math concepts and smooth the transition to high school through mentorship from older students and program coordinators. The future of the program continues to evolve and expand to include additional career development offerings and after-school STEM activities.
The Caterpillar Foundation is committed to supporting students as they pursue and enter STEM careers, equipped with the right skills and knowledge to thrive. Expanding access to STEM education in under-served communities — within the United States and around the world — creates a viable pathway to economic opportunity.
The Foundation has partnered with the Decatur Public Schools Foundation for more than 15 years. OC provides a great opportunity for students in the Decatur community to reach their highest potential, increase their competency in mathematics, and prepares them to explore career possibilities prior to graduation.