Isaac M., an eighth grader at Chicago’s Telpochcalli School, has a quiet, inquisitive demeanor, but ask him about forensics and watch his eyes brighten as he easily explains terms too complex for most adults to comprehend.

Isaac is one of the 17 students from Chicago Public Schools who chose to spend spring break learning in the lab instead of lounging on the couch. Project Exploration, a non-profit education organization that works to ensure communities traditionally underrepresented in the sciences — particularly minority youth and girls — have access to personalized experiences with science, partnered with Loyola recently for a four-day program that gave middle school and high school students a taste of options available to them after graduation.

For a week in early April, the students worked alongside six Loyola forensic science majors who volunteered their time after hearing about the program from Garry Bombard, program director of forensics.

Carlos Moncada, a junior, was eager to volunteer.

Moncada taught the teens about physical forensics, such as fingerprints, impressions of bruising, and those other items “you see when you’re watching a court case on TV and someone holds up a bag of evidence.” Moncada even let the students play with broken glass with their task being to piece together the original form.

Amaris Alanis Ribeiro, manager of programs at Project Exploration, says the younger students enjoyed interacting with the college-aged volunteers who not only led instructional activities but served as real-life role models.

“By working with the Loyola students, it helps our kids see, ‘Hey, they’re not just scientists, but students,'” Ribeiro says, adding that it allows the group to gain a realistic view of the college experience. “It’s about mentoring and shadowing for the next step after high school.”

The students worked hands-on in the labs at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy for the first three days of the program, but by day four, it was time for a break. On Thursday, April 5, they visited Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus for an admissions information session, a tour, and lunch in Simpson Dining Hall.

Although he already tutors three of the participating students through his work-study job at Instituto, Moncada chose to volunteer with Project Exploration because he empathizes with the teens.

“Most are minority students, middle to lower-income. That’s my background. When you come from that kind of situation, it’s hard to find family members pushing you past high school,” he says. “It’s important when we have students like that — with even a little interest in going to college — we foster that desire and get it to grow.”

Unlike many college students, eighth grader Isaac knows exactly what he wants to do when he grows up. “Latent prints,” he says. “Prints that are not visible to the naked eye.”

There’s plenty of time before Isaac needs to start sending in college applications, but right now his heart is set on one school. “I want to go to Loyola, graduate, and make my career in latent print and in chemistry.”

Ribeiro hopes to bring CPS students back to Loyola next year for more learning in and out of the classroom through Project Exploration.

Other Loyola undergrads involved with Project Exploration include: Katelyn Hargrave, Mary McMillin, Zachary Parsons, Emilia Baginski, and Kechia Caridine. For more information about Project Exploration, please visit