Science Bound: A program of opportunity

The sign on the shelf in the library at North High School reads “within these walls lies the future.”

Emily Blobaum

Nestled in the back of the small library at North High School, a large, wooden sign lays propped up on top of a bookcase. In painted gold, sheet-metal letters, it reads “Within these walls lies the future.”

The sign serves as nothing but a mere decoration in the room where more than 30 students gather every Tuesday afternoon.

The message is fitting, because within the walls of the library are where Science Bound meetings are held.

Science Bound is a partnership between Iowa State University and three school districts across the state — Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), Marshalltown Public Schools and Denison Community Schools — that empowers high school students of color to pursue careers in agriculture, science, technology and math (ASTEM) fields.

The program provides a full-tuition scholarship to students who declare ASTEM majors at Iowa State.

To them, Science Bound is an opportunity. 


Promptly at 3 p.m., they recite the Code of Conduct.

I am a Science Bound student.

I am here to succeed.

Science Bound students are leaders. I am a leader. I lead the way in the classroom, my attitude, my behavior and the quality of my work.

Science Bound students are proactive. I am proactive. I don’t wait for things to come to me; I seek out opportunities to make positive things happen.

Science Bound students are committed. I am committed to making my success happen in school, at home, in preparation for college and the pursuit of my career.

This is my time.

My time to learn, grow and develop myself so I can make the most of every opportunity.

I am focused, determined and success-bound.

I will accept nothing less than success.

That is why I am a Science Bound student.

From there, they break off into their families — each senior is paired with a group of underclassmen — and begin their meeting, which consists of study tables, guest speakers or class takeovers.

Their meeting on Feb. 13 happened to be the senior class’ takeover day.

A background on North

North High School, as its name suggests, is located on the north side of Des Moines. It’s one of five primary high schools in the DMPS district.

Des Moines’ north side is often stereotyped as being a bad neighborhood. 

According to the Des Moines Register’s database on homicide locations, nine out of the 38 homicides between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2017 occurred in the North school district.

In 2016, one North High School student was killed in what was believed to be a gang-related shooting.

With a student population of 1,319 students, North has the highest rate of students that receive free and reduced lunches, which is 1,086 students, or 82 percent.

According to Phil Roeder, director of communications and public affairs at DMPS, free and reduced lunches are used as a measure for socioeconomic standing in education.

North also has the highest percentage of non-white students of the five high schools, which is at 75 percent.

Nine years ago, North’s graduation rate was sitting at 73 percent.

But North is on the rise.

The graduation rate for the Class of 2017 was at nearly 88 percent, putting them smack in the middle of the five high schools.

North was ranked #11 on Iowa’s AP Index in 2017. They hadn’t cracked the top 50 five years ago.

Courageous, passionate, relentless.

Those three words are repeated often within the walls of North. It’s the Polar Bear Way.

“North High kids go for what we want, we never settle for anything less than what we want,” said Jayda Negrete, a junior in Science Bound at North. “We’re go-getters. We’ve never stopped working for what we’ve wanted, and we’re always passionate about what we do here.”

And the students in Science Bound are no different. 

Six Science Bound seniors are graduating from North in 2018. Here are three of their stories:

Andreas Cortez-Castillo

If you don’t count his goal of owning six different cars, Andreas Cortez-Castillo has had one dream since he was 5 years old: to give back to his parents.

More specifically, buying them a black 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle with white stripes — the very same car that his father used to own— and seeing them ride off into the Mexican sunset.

“They’ve given me dedication, love and respect, and they were willing to push themselves just to get me where I am,” Cortez-Castillo said. “I was always so spoiled, I was the kid that always wanted the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. I want to give back my dad his very first car. When it came to life and survival, he had no choice but to sell it.”

Cortez-Castillo is an inductee of Science Bound, meaning that he isn’t a full member, because he didn’t join until his freshman year.

His cousin, Illiana, signed him up for the program. She saw potential in him, as he was earning all As and Bs.

Cortez-Castillo was mad at her initially.

“I just wanted to go home and go to sleep,” he said. “It felt like a chore at first.”

To be in Science Bound, you have to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher and participate in 75 percent of Science Bound events. Cortez-Castillo wasn’t meeting those standards, so he was placed on probation until he proved that he could take it seriously.

His parents were disappointed in him. He was disappointed in himself. He then realized the opportunities that Science Bound was giving him and how important it was to work hard in furthering his education.

He worked all year to bring his grades back up. He studied for 30 hours a week and didn’t miss class.

And Cortez-Castillo worked hard every year after, a big motivating factor being that he’ll be an uncle come October.

“I feel like I have to work even harder. I want to give the kids advice or recommendation. When I have this niece or nephew, I want to make sure that they focus on education. Without education, you probably won’t know anything about life,” he said.

Cortez-Castillo plans on majoring in either computer, civil or electrical engineering this fall.

Rosemary Galdamez

Rosemary Galdamez has always known what she’s wanted to do.

“My purpose is to help others,” she said.

It kept her motivated when her grandmother was sent back to El Salvador for not having legitimate papers several years ago.

Her grandmother’s absence was difficult, especially for Galdamez’s quinceanera. 

“I didn’t understand why she was gone,” Galdamez said. “I thought, ‘It’s the United States, anyone can come here!’”

She was envious of other students whose grandparents played an active role in their lives but pushed on.

“It sucks, but at the end of the day, I feel like I have a purpose and I work hard to fulfill it,” Galdamez said.

Specifically, she feels as though her purpose is to help others in the world by improving water quality.

Galdamez has always loved science and the great outdoors. 

She joined Science Bound, because she knew there would be opportunities with being outdoors and it would help her find a career that she liked, but she stayed for the free tuition.

“Science Bound has given me an opportunity to go to a great college and not have to worry about the expenses,” Galdamez said. “Something you always get told is that college is expensive and you think ‘how am I going to pay for that?’”

She would have gone to college regardless, but it would have been difficult financially if she had to pay the full price.

Her parents didn’t graduate high school back in El Salvador but found jobs in the United States that brought in enough money to support Galdamez and her sister.

Her father works full time at Timber Pine Nursery. Her mother worked part time at McDonald’s so she could take care of her daughters and pick them up from school.

“My mom really chose to be able to help my sister and I. She didn’t like the job and the pay wasn’t good and it was a struggle, but she dealt with it until we got to high school. That’s when she had it planned that she would leave.”

She sacrificed a lot to help my sister, Galdamez said.

Galdamez’s mother has always said that when she dies, she wants to leave her children with education.

“I won’t leave you guys money, because we don’t have much, but I want my inheritance to be the education you receive,” Galdamez remembered her mother saying.

Galdamez plans on majoring in natural resource ecology and management and maybe add a double major in global resource systems.

Justyne Crawford

Although the tuition scholarship is a nice bonus, Justyne Crawford joined Science Bound more for the community. It’s given her a place of comfort.

Much like the rest of her classmates at North, Crawford grew up poor in a single-parent household. Neither of her parents finished college.

However, Crawford didn’t realize she was poor until she attended Central Academy in middle school — a highly selective public magnet school that invites students from all across the district — and saw the stark difference in socioeconomic standings among her classmates. 

“We were all in similar situations [growing up],” she said. “I’d never been exposed to an environment that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. But when I attended Central, that was definitely a different kind of feel. There were the kids that were more wealthy.”

At Central, she would often be the only black person in her class. At North, she was part of the majority.

“I appreciate the diversity and the different people we have [at North],” she said. “I honestly don’t think I could do too well in a community that isn’t as diverse as what I’ve grown up in. I love the community here. I feel like we do have so much pride. It’s a good place for people of color to feel safe.”

Science Bound is the same way.

“[Science Bound] is a community where we can all be comfortable,” Crawford said. “There are plenty of other people that look like us.”

Crawford looks up to women of color who are in science.

“I want to be that inspiration for other young, minority women,” she said. “It’s so important that we have representation, and I definitely want to be a good representation of that community.”

Crawford plans on majoring in either civil or biosystems engineering this fall.