Science First

College First

College First is a dynamic paid internship program for eligible Chicago Public High School students consisting of career mentorship, field ecology and conservation science, and college prep and assistance.

Each summer, approximately 20 students from Chicago Public Schools travel to the Garden by school bus from designated stops to spend seven weeks in the Garden's beautiful setting. They explore a vast array of potential science careers and use the Garden's 385 acres and resources to learn about native ecosystems and plants. During the summer, as well as at monthly meetings over the school year, emphasis is also placed on college as a pathway to careers and guidance is given to the students, who are often the first in their families to attend college. Click here for a list of high schools.


About the Program

Students spend half of each day in group instruction, using the resources of the Garden, to learn about nature and science. The other half of the day is spent working one-on-one with a staff member to learn more about specific career areas at the Garden as well as to gain job skills and learn workplace etiquette.

Last summer, students worked in the following areas:

  • Horticulture
  • Plant Genetics & Seed Biology Lab
  • Seed Bank
  • Education & Camp CBG
  • Butterflies & Blooms Exhibit
  • Soil Ecology
  • Conservation Biology

Research Projects

Our program strives to prepare each student for learning beyond high school as they prepare to enter college and the workforce. As part of that endeavor, we help students hone their research and presentation skills. During the summer, each student chooses a research project to work on and present to an audience, including Garden staff, family and friends, mentors, and community partners. We encourage students to research a topic related to their work with their mentor or Garden staff member.

Students have worked on a variety of projects, including the following:

  • Genetic diversity among thistle species (including a video of PCR techniques)
  • Best methods for DNA isolation of breadfruit
  • Invasive species found on Garden property and potential treatments
  • Carnivorous plants of Illinois and their habitats: a study of local wetlands
  • Stratification and seed germination of dogfoot violet
  • Enviro-report card: a comprehensive assessment of air, water, and soil quality in the Garden
  • Ideal growing conditions for various species of fungi
  • Analysis of soil samples from the Dixon Prairie and Somme Prairie (to identify why grasses are disappearing at these sites)
  • Identification of native bee pollinator species for several native plants
  • Analysis and suggestions for growing biofuels on-site
  • Best techniques for isolating sweetener from stevia plants

Trips and College Visits

Field trips take place once a week in the summer, and guest speakers are invited to lecture in the Garden classrooms. Trips may be to tour a science lab at a university or to extend the field ecology labs beyond the Garden. Monthly school year meetings often involve visits to colleges, college fairs, financial aid workshops, etc.

Some past trips include the following:

  • Beaubien Woods (a work day, to remove invasive plant species [buckthorn])
  • North Park Village Nature Center
  • Garfield Park Conservatory
  • Field Museum's George Washington Carver exhibit
  • Northwestern University, Chicago State University, North Park University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University (campus tours)
  • SmartHome: Green & Wired, at the Museum of Science and Industry
  • National College Fair at Navy Pier (sponsored by NACAC)
  • College Selection and Application workshop at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (presented by the University of Illinois Extension Service and College of ACES)

After College First

College First graduates have very positive rates of continuing education. In fact, 95 percent of the past four graduating years and 88 percent of all College First graduates since 2003 are currently enrolled in or have already graduated from a higher education institution. Schools where past College First program graduates have recently enrolled include Georgetown University, Northeastern Illinois University, DePaul University, Wright Junior College, University of Minnesota, Loyola University, Cornell University, Iowa Wesleyan University, Carleton College, and both the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses of the University of Illinois.