How does a young student learn the language of scientific discovery, the joy of viewing the universe in a different light, and the pathways to widely varying careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)? Sometimes it’s through school but more often that message is reinforced at home, in the local community and in the network of people and role models surrounding that young person.
For many Hispanic and Latino students, seeing STEM career role models and gaining exposure to real-world science applications and career opportunities is both important and sometimes challenging.
“What I found when I was growing up and doing career days [in predominantly Hispanic south suburbs of Chicago], is that there were few professionals there,” recalled Mike Kaminski, now a senior nuclear chemical engineer in Argonne’s Strategic Security Sciences division. “There weren’t lawyers, doctors, scientists, CPAs… none of those.”
The co-founders and officers of today’s 139-member Argonne Hispanic/Latino Club Employee Resource Group (ERG) saw a grassroots opportunity to make an impact. What started in 2003 as primarily a social club for Argonne employees to celebrate Spanish-speaking cultures expanded its scope in 2005 to include community outreach to those underrepresented in the nation’s academic and research institutions. With Argonne’s full and ongoing support, the group administers a scholarship program and offers Hispanic/Latino Education Outreach Day (HEOD) to raise awareness of STEM professions among students.
The impact of these events on students can be tremendous.
“When I visit the younger ones and tell them where my Mom is from, their eyes open and they have smiles on their faces,” said Kaminski, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico’s San Luis Potosi and whose father is of Polish descent. “They can immediately identify and think, ‘Hey, I am kind of like you! My parents were born there and came here.’ Through education, they can see themselves having a career like mine or any of the many powerful careers offered in STEM.”
This year’s HEOD on October 6 was a half-day virtual event for 40 students, grades six through eight, from Washington Middle School in West Aurora School District 129. Students watched a picture presentation introducing the laboratory before engaging in a virtual escape room themed around cybersecurity. They participated in a series of rapid meet and greet sessions with research professionals and scientists in order to learn what STEM careers exist and what professionals in support of STEM actually do at Argonne. A hands-on experiment concluded the morning’s activities, with closing comments from Laboratory Director Paul Kearns.
For many students at Washington Middle School, which is 65-70% Hispanic or Latino, this was the first time they met someone other than their science teacher who works in a science-related field.
“For a lot of [participants], this might have been their first experience with a science-focused individual,” said David Allen, School District 129’s science curriculum coordinator and the community liaison for this year’s HEOD. “In middle school especially, students struggle to see real-world connections with science class and why it is important. They wonder, ‘what can I do with this when I am out of school?’ This is a nice opportunity to realize there are people who do science for a career, and there are real things going on with the ‘science and STEM stuff’ going on in class.”
“For a lot of [participants], this might have been their first experience with a science-focused individual.” — David Allen, West Aurora School District 129 science curriculum coordinator and community liaison for HEOD
Kaminski says members of the Hispanic/Latino Club ERG hope young participants come away with an understanding of the incredible number and types of great careers available to them.
“I hope [the students] see how special we are at the lab, what talent we look for in order to solve the world’s toughest problems, and that they are part of this,” said Kaminski. “They are part of the group of people who need to be involved in order for us to be most competitive.”
For more information on Hispanic Heritage Month and how you can learn and celebrate, please visit Argonne’s Hispanic/Latino Club ERG blog.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.