Project celebrates 30 years of finding tomorrow’s leaders
By Denise Crosby email@example.com June 10, 2012 7:22PM
Updated: July 12, 2012 6:05AM
I couldn’t blame Shelia Lovette Coston for those few yawns.
She wasn’t bored, that’s for sure. There was a whole lot going on — speakers, songs, candle lightings and awards — at the TSTM/Project Ready 30th Anniversary Celebration and Alumni Homecoming Banquet last week at Pipers Banquets in Aurora.
But only a few hours earlier, the 44-year-old West Aurora alum and her 12- (almost 13) year-old-daughter had flown in from Switzerland, where Coston works as IT manager for Roche Pharmaceuticals. And according to her internal clock, it was about 3 in the morning.
It had been a long day, a long journey. But it was important she get back to her hometown for this banquet celebrating this milestone of an organization that had done so much to prepare her for a bright future.
Coston was president of that first graduating TSTM class, and she wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to honor the founders; or applaud the 2012 TSTM graduates who hail from nine school districts in Kane, Kendall, DuPage and Will counties.
It also gave her a chance to see fellow TSTM classmate Dr. Frazier Wilson, who didn’t travel as far by plane — he flew in from Houston — but certainly this 1986 East Aurora grad has, likewise, gone the distance in his career as vice president of Shell Oil Co. Foundation.
Impressive titles and resumes were attached to both of them. But there’s something about reunions that bring out the youth in us. And it was obvious, as they shared banter and memories , the years fell away.
Coston and Wilson have a lot in common — including what they did and didn’t get away with as teens. And they both represent why Thursday night’s banquet was such a celebration.
TSTM — it stands for Tomorrow’s Scientists, Technicians and Managers — began when the Quad County Urban League kicked off the program in 1982 — as Coston and Wilson were getting ready to enter high school — to help local students tackle more challenging coursework, give back to their neighborhoods through community service; and explore careers in business, sciences, engineering and math, where minorities remain dramatically underrepresented.
Since that first class, close to 1,200 students like Coston and Wilson — bright, motivated and with parents committed to the challenge — have gone through TSTM, along with its complimentary program, Project Ready.
They remembered the days with fondness, despite the fact every Saturday the students were required to attend workshops.
It was not always smooth sailing. Gwen Miller, one of the founding members, remembers having just one hour to write a $40,000 grant request that was instrumental in getting one of TSTM’s projects off the ground. It took commitment on the part of a bunch of people. Not just the kids, but also their parents — they met separately each Saturday — and an entire community of individuals and businesses (including The Beacon-News, one of three organizations honored for serving on the first Program/Planning Committee) who believe in the importance of education.
“They took away all my weekends for five years of my life,” said Wilson, who introduced Coston as the first president before giving the closing remarks. “I did not know what (TSTM) would become. But I want you to know how proud we are to be part of this.”
Coston, too, even toward the close of the evening, was all smiles in between those yawns.
“I’m tired, yes,” she admitted. “But I would not have missed this for anything.”