STUDENTS | May 21, 2021
One of the newest opportunities for high-achieving students at Corliss High School is participating in the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute’s Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA). Over the past few years, approximately 10 students have traveled to Princeton University to participate in STEM workshops and career development activities with Princeton professors and students of color from across the country.
Three current Corliss seniors will graduate from high school as ALA alumni, including soon-to-be valedictorian Nakiela and Posse Scholar Ahmad.
Nakiela and Ahmad share a favorite memory from the program: during their first night on campus as juniors, the program organized a competition in which teams were challenged to create the strongest bridge out of materials such as popsicle sticks, hot glue, and rubber bands.
“Everybody was stressing about how their bridge was going to break so easily,” said Nakiela. “But this one group, they built a bridge so big, and it lasted so long. When it finally broke, the whole crowd went crazy.”
A reason Ahmad had wanted to be a part of the program since his freshman year was because he believes STEM—and STEM careers—will play a big role in our future world. Even when the program shifted to a virtual format because of the pandemic, he was still inspired by the interactive activities he participated in at home.
“We had to create a bike helmet because we were studying how easy it is to damage the brain,” he said of one activity. “Our helmet was meant to protect someone when they are riding a bike or skateboarding, and I thought that was really cool.”
Nakiela also thought the program remained exciting and challenging even on a screen, noting how her professors wasted no time ensuring students would be able to keep learning through interactive activities.
“On our very first day online, we had to make the entire human leg out of cardboard, tape, and a string with marbles to demonstrate the nutrients flowing through the body,” she said. “We also had to make sure that the knee and ankle were able to bend. It was really hard, but I do think mine was the best.”
Corliss counselor Cheryl Dyer explains that the program is just one of the ways the school is working hard to reimagine the possibilities for a neighborhood school on the South Side. She’s been extremely impressed with both students’ resilience as they’ve navigated a difficult school year.
“We want to help our students develop grit and fortitude, and, without trying, this year has forced them to do that,” said Ms. Dyer. “As a school counselor but also just an adult in the building, I have to keep reminding myself that this is an unprecedented time. To see them still pushing and trying makes me so excited about their future.”
In the fall, Nakiela will take everything she learned through the program and at Corliss with her to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her strong background in STEM will help her hit the ground running as a chemistry major, with her ultimate goal to become a forensic scientist specializing in toxicology.
As a second-generation Corliss student, when summing up her high school experience, she thinks about an acronym everyone at Corliss uses frequently—E.L.I.T.E., which stands for educated and empowered; lifelong learner; innovative and independent; technologically talented; and employable and entrepreneurial.
“I want to hold Corliss up to its name. We always say: ‘We are the Corliss Trojans, and we are E.L.I.T.E.,’” she said. “Corliss is elite. They make their students thrive and push them to be their very best.”
Like Nakiela, Ahmad believes that his time at Corliss has prepared him to succeed in college. He’ll be attending Middlebury College to continue pursuing his passion for STEM and work toward his dream of becoming a psychiatrist.
“My high school experience was amazing. I was always happy here because I enjoyed the teachers and getting to know everyone,” he said. “I enjoyed every day at Corliss, and each day was better than the last.”