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State Rep. Pritchard Lauds Opportunities Offered by Waubonsee STEM Scholarship Program

State Rep. Robert Pritchard listens as Waubonsee student Jason LaBolle, of Sandwich, discusses Waubonsee's STEM Scholarship Program during a roundtable talk Oct. 17 at Waubonsee.

For Ruben Noceda, 53, of Montgomery, who lost his job in a corporate downsizing last year, the STEM Scholarship Program at Waubonsee Community College offers an opportunity to reboot his career.

For Jason LaBolle, 18, of Sandwich, a freshman fresh out of high school with big dreams, the program stands as a low-cost launching pad for his aspirations.

And for Annabelle Huff, 35, of Aurora, a married mother of three young children attending college full-time, the program offers the chance to do what others may deem impossible.

While Waubonsee’s STEM Scholarship Program offers different things to different students, for all involved, the program stands as a model of what is possible when skilled science, technology, math and engineering faculty invest in bright students and lay the foundation for great things to come.

Friday, Oct. 17, students and faculty associated with Waubonsee’s STEM Program were able to tell their stories to Ill. State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, 70th Legislative District, during a special afternoon roundtable discussion at the college’s Sugar Grove Campus, Route 47 at Waubonsee Drive.

Pritchard said he believes bolstering education emphasizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, subjects will be key for the future of the region and the country.

“This is a real need in our country today,” Pritchard said. “We need more thinkers, more doers, more creators and more entrepreneurs. They originate in STEM.”

Pritchard saluted the work carried out by Waubonsee in creating the STEM Scholarship Program specifically to raise up the next generation of scientists, computer programmers, engineers and mathematicians, among others.

Waubonsee’s STEM Scholarship Program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, allowing the college to offer scholarships to qualifying students and to offer faculty the chance to mentor promising students one-on-one.

Waubonsee faculty overseeing the program include David H. Voorhees, Associate Professor of Earth Science and Geology; Amy Frankel, Associate Professor of Mathematics; and Danielle DuCharme, Associate Professor of Biology.

Randall Hines, CAD Instructor, also serves as a mentor in the STEM Program.

The four instructors, as well as Waubonsee President Dr. Christine Sobek; Mary Edith Butler, Dean for Mathematics and Science; and Lourdes “Lulu” Blacksmith, Director of Government and Multicultural Affairs, participated in the roundtable meeting with Pritchard.

Four students – Noceda, LaBolle, Huff and Kelsey Ford, 18, of Sandwich – participated in the discussion, as well.

The STEM Scholarship Program currently includes 18 students, recruited from among Waubonsee’s student body and from local high schools.

Voorhees said 90 percent of students who participate in the program ultimately transfer to four-year institutions to pursue more advanced degrees.

LaBolle said he learned of the program while an Advanced Placement student in high school. While initially unsure, he said he eventually embraced the chance to capitalize on the scholarship opportunities and “get that big degree and still be ahead in the money race.”

He said he intends to transfer to a four-year college after his sophomore year.

Huff said the program has generally made college easier for her, giving her the “money and mentoring,” as well as dedicated study space and confidence, she needs to continue her education. 

“It has helped a lot,” she said.

Noceda said he enrolled in Waubonsee’s CAD program last year, and is now well on his way to completing a four-year degree in design through a “3-and-1” articulation program Waubonsee offers with Northern Illinois University. Under such an arrangement, participating students can earn a bachelor’s degree by following a proscribed course through three years at Waubonsee, followed by a year at NIU.

Hines, who serves as Noceda’s mentor, said the STEM Scholarship Program helped Noceda land an internship this year at Fermilab in Batavia.

“The STEM Program has been a godsend,” Noceda said.

For more on Waubonsee’s STEM Program, visit