Illinois Institute of Technology opened a community-based garden and ecological research center on the corner of 33rd Street and Michigan Avenue on its Mies Campus that is designed to bring together neighbors, students, researchers, educators, horticulturists, and community scientists, a project initiated and led by the university’s Office of Community Affairs and Outreach Programs and Assistant Vice President for Community Affairs Alicia Bunton. The Budburst Garden at Nate Thomas Memorial Meadow opened in June.
The garden is part of Chicago Botanic Gardens’ Budburst program, a network of community gardens that were established to answer specific, timely, and critical ecological research questions. More than just a neighborhood greenspace, Budburst is a living research program in which community members can use the free Budburst app to contribute valuable plant, animal, and geological data designed to illustrate the human impacts on the natural world.
At the Illinois Tech site, the Budburst team aims to collect vital information on the timing of seasonal changes in plants; evaluation of plants and pollinators; and restoration of habitats for monarch butterflies through the Milkweeds and Monarchs project.
Members from across the Bronzeville and Illinois Tech communities come together at Nate Thomas Memorial Meadow as Budburst citizen scientists to help provide much-needed data to biological and ecological researchers. By snapping a photo from their phone using the Budburst app, community members submit their observations to Budburst’s international database, joining critical research on the impacts of climate change.
This connection to community makes the Budburst garden just one of many ways to honor the legacy of Nathaniel “Nate” Thomas, who established the trailblazing Early Identification Program for minority recruitment at Illinois Tech. Nate passed away in November 2020 at age 84.
Nate held a variety of executive positions—including director of admission, head of minority affairs, and vice president of external affairs—during his 22 years at Illinois Tech. He came to the university in 1973 as the assistant director of co-op education, with a focus on recruiting and supporting students from underrepresented communities in STEM fields. His efforts led to a 433 percent increase in students from underrepresented communities in his first year alone.
His impact on students from underrepresented communities endures. In June 2009 some 200 Illinois Tech alumni, including the newly formed African American Alumni Association, gathered on Mies Campus to honor and welcome Nate back to campus to fete him and his role as their guiding career star.
Nate understood that access to higher education can provide an individual with the tools, knowledge, resources, and strategies needed to improve their lives and to impact their community. In response and in memorial to Nate, Illinois Tech’s Office of Graduate Admission is proud to offer the Nate Thomas Public Service Scholarship to help be that bridge for students to access advanced education in STEM disciplines.
#ImpactBlack is about the transformational local, national, and global impact that Black students at Illinois Institute of Technology have. #ImpactBlack specifically recognizes the students shepherded by Nate Thomas. Nate recognized talent and potential in Black high school students, ushered those students through Early ID and other programs, and positioned them for success. This generated the highest Black talent pool in the university's history. As a direct result, students under Nate's mentoring and leadership have set the world on fire with STEAM and philanthropic talent.
The African American Alumni Association also recognizes the Black students that matriculated before and after Nate Thomas. We represent struggle and triumph -- a tribute to Black greatness. #ImpactBlack from Illinois Institute of Technology.