Project Exploration founder Gabrielle Lyon named 2011 'Chicagoan of the Year'

Chicago magazine has selected alumna Gabrielle Lyon, AB’94, AM’94, as one of its 2011 “Chicagoans of the Year” in its January 2012 issue. Lyon, Project Exploration founder and senior explorer, joins a group of six Chicagoans that the magazine hails as “intrepid heroes who make our city — and our world — a better place.”

Lyon, an education activist, who is called a “science seer” in the Chicago profile, founded Project Exploration in 1999 to bring the wonders of science and discovery students of color and girls overlooked by traditional science education efforts. More than 85 percent of the students participating in Project Exploration’s out-of-school-time programs come from low-income African American and Latino families, and 74 percent are girls.


“The recognition by Chicago magazine validates the work of our entire team — our staff, students, scientists, volunteers and supporters,” said Lyon. “We opened our doors to put science — and scientists — to work in the service of students. Now that science has become a national priority, it’s more critical than ever that we ensure all of Chicago’s young people have access to scientists and opportunities that fan the flames of curiosity and discovery. We help students discover themselves and the possibilities their lives hold.”

In the Chicago profile, Lyon speaks of creating new pathways for inner-city students. “We help them discover so much about themselves, about the capacity they have,” Lyon said. “We have to do more than ‘get kids interested in science.’ We have to build systems for them to stay involved with science in school and beyond.”

The “Chicagoan of the Year” designation caps a year of milestones for Project Exploration. Last March, a 10-year retrospective study of its alumni found that the out-of-school time science education model produces significant and lasting effects on students’ educational achievements and career aspirations in science. The organization has received important grants from the Abbott Fund, the Motorola Solutions Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation, The Brinson Foundation, and the Chicago Foundation for Women. Project Exploration was named one of the best summer programs in the country by the National Summer Learning Association.

In October, Project Exploration named Paige Ponder its new chief executive officer, and Lyon transitioned to her new role as senior explorer.