By Lauren Victory

CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s one of the most exciting times for high school seniors: signing day. You’ll typically hear that term used as a celebration of athletes that are committing to college sports teams, but here in Chicago it can mean something else.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory introduces us to a signing day that honors students who hit the books.

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Jazzy music and jars of chemicals in New Orleans await Chicago Public Schools student Nilah Marshall.

“Producing different ice cream flavors, or producing different smells for detergents, and I just thought that was really interesting,” Marshall said of some of the most intriguing jobs she’s heard chemical engineers work on.

The high school senior became interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – or “STEM” – through high school projects. That passion fueled her decision to pursue a chemical engineering degree at Xavier University of Louisiana. It also led her to Chicago’s 2021 STEM Signing Day.

Marshall is among 50 Chicago area students honored for their promise to study STEM subjects in college.

“I’m interested in STEM, because it’s a growing field,” said Lamaur Benjamin in a video played during the virtual Signing Day ceremony in Chicago.

“My dream job is to create medical devices to distribute to low-resource communities,” said Katelyn Schumacher in the same video.

“I aspire to be a software engineer,” said Amirah Ibrahim.

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In exchange for their STEM pledge, students receive $1,000 scholarships.

“It will help pay for my college experience, and probably most go towards my books,” said Marshall.

The program is partly sponsored by Boeing. The Chicago-based company matches student with professional. Many say the relationship is more valuable than the money.

Just ask Steve Wilson and his mentor Candice Smith. His STEM Signing Day was more than two years ago, but the pair still talk.

“It’s a blessing, honestly; just coming from the South Side of Chicago, a lot of my family members have never been to college,” Wilson who just finished his sophomore year at the Ohio State University. “Just being an engineer, to be able to pick her brain, learn from her, understand some of the challenges she has been through.”

Smith worked her way up in Boeing, a company whose engineers work on mega projects including the Space Launch System Core Stage with NASA.

“This is a person who wants to become an engineer, solve problems, change the world. If I can help him do that, why wouldn’t I?” said Smith, who serves as Director of Engineering People Strategy for Boeing’s global technical team.

STEM Signing Day began in South Carolina, growing to Texas, California, and beyond. The result? An investment in almost 2000 young minds nationwide.

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Marshall is excited for her STEM journey to come. It’s worked out so far for Wilson. Friday was his first day as Boeing intern.

Lauren Victory