A fully equipped health science center, featuring two labs for career exploration and nursing skills training, is coming to Evanston Township High School in fall 2024.

The ETHS Foundation, the high school’s philanthropy arm that raises private dollars for capital projects not included in the district budget, announced plans to construct the center at its annual fundraising gala March 25.

A rendering of one of the health science center lab spaces from architect Perkins & Will. Credit: ETHS Foundation

Since its creation in 2008, the foundation has raised more than $11 million for ETHS educational programs and facilities such as the auto tech shop, the Geometry in Construction class and the advanced manufacturing lab.

Now, thanks to seed money provided by the Cless Family Foundation, the $1.2 million health science center will be the foundation’s next major contribution to the school’s offerings for students, according to foundation Executive Director Joanne Bertsche.

“I’m awe-inspired by the fact that our community wants to build this transformative, life-changing space so that we can have students in the health care workforce who are prepared and highly skilled, and have the opportunity to grow their careers,” Bertsche said. “Our community is making this happen. It’s pretty powerful, and it’s for the future of many young people in a field that is desperate for well-trained employees.”

Each year, the foundation raises between $2 million and $3 million in private donations, which Bertsche said is rare for a public school community and helps provide unique opportunities for Evanston students. NorthShore University HealthSystem, one of the biggest employers in town, currently has more than 1,500 job openings in everything from nursing to marketing and finance.

The new health science center is intended to become part of an employment pipeline already under development to help local youth interested in the patient care industry get the experience they need to start working right away. Just last year, for example, NorthShore joined the ETHS iKit Job Shadow Week, where students participate in career experiences during spring break.

Susan Plattner, NorthShore manager of diversity, equity and inclusion, said one ETHS student who shadowed a pharmacist at Evanston Hospital last year spent the summer interning there, and is now a full-time pharmacy technician on a path toward becoming a certified pharmacist.

“There’s a huge opportunity here to partner with other organizations within the community to introduce our young people to all kinds of career pathways,” Plattner said. “And I think when people think ‘Oh, I want to work in health care,’ they have to have a clinical job, but they don’t. We’re just like any other company that needs to employ people in payroll, marketing, etc.”

ETHS Superintendent Marcus Campbell, in his first year on the job, has also made post-secondary planning a strategic priority for the district moving forward.

The center will have six fully operational hospital beds and medical mannequins for student training. Credit: ETHS Foundation

This spring, the number of students participating in the job shadow spring break experience more than doubled to 56, with the number of participating local employers growing from 11 to 20, according to Neil Gambow, chair of the Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council.

In October 2021, the high school hosted Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) for a conversation with community leaders about workforce development and educating high school students about alternative paths to success other than a traditional four-year college degree. Now ETHS is investing in technical education with classes covering topics like data science, manufacturing and, soon, health science.

For students interested in eventually taking advantage of the health care workspaces funded by the ETHS Foundation, a career exploration course for sophomores will be offered for the first time this fall. Then, as juniors, they would be able to take a dual credit class with Oakton College covering medical terminology and an orientation to health science.

Finally, as seniors, participating students would join a capstone nurse training class through the new health science center. In the career exploration lab, they would be able to get experience with X-ray technology and occupational therapy, for example. The nursing lab will have fully operational hospital beds with medical mannequins for students to learn about taking vitals and positioning patients, according to Bertsche.

At the end of that course, any students interested in doing so will be able to study for and take the certified nursing assistant exam, Bertsche said.

“This beautiful new facility is going to be in what was the old book distribution center, a prime real estate spot on the first floor,” she said. “It’s going to be beautifully appointed, with light coming in through big windows, and we’re going to have a glass window looking into it so that students can see inside. To look in and see basically a simulated hospital … it’s just so exciting. It’s a new breed of science learning spaces.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. What an outstanding project! So proud of my alma mater for continuing to modernize and putting students first. A CNA certification can easily transform into high earning clinical degrees. Early exposure makes a world of difference. I can’t wait to see ETHS grads performing confidently in the workforce.

  2. When I first saw this headline I thought “ wow, that’s really exciting “ Earning college credits kind of like AP classes, state-of-the-art science labs kind of like for biology, chemistry and stem classes, and high skills training for awesome jobs Then as I scrolled down it became clear that you could take one class sophomore year, one class junior year and one class senior year after which if you passed a test you could become a CNA earning $18 an hour. Of course Target already offers that plus an employee discount. I guess a really awesome job would be in the building trades where you could eventually earn $60 plus an hour. The rebuilding warehouse offers that opportunity here in Evanston

  3. What an exciting and important program! It would be interesting to see more articles about that the high school offers in work training.