Despite growing up in the Chicago area, Yasleen Muñoz — currently studying environmental biology at Harold Washington City College in Chicago — knew very little about the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Lemont, Ill.
Then one day this fall, she received an email out of the blue, inviting her to First Look@Argonne. Muñoz subsequently participated in First Look — a behind-the-scenes tour of the laboratory from its researchers. It not only gave her a better understanding of the laboratory’s cutting-edge research, she also wants to be a part of it via a possible summer internship.
“I’d never had the opportunity to attend anything like this before — this was my first look into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) research and conferences — and it honestly blew my expectations out of the water,” Muñoz said. “I couldn’t have imagined everything at Argonne; the types of research closely match my goals for the future. Going in, I didn’t really know how my career as a STEM student would look in the future, and Argonne gave me a beautiful look into that.”
First Look, funded by the DOE’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS), is Argonne’s take on a “college visit” for potential undergraduate interns. The program’s goal is to build connections with underrepresented students who otherwise would not know about Argonne’s programs.
For First Look, students visit the lab and tour DOE Office of Science user facilities such as the Center for Nanoscale Materials and Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. During lunch, they have the chance to chat casually with researchers and network with them. Finally, Argonne concludes the event with perhaps the most valuable part: information and tips on how to apply for DOE WDTS internship programs such as the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship and the Community College Internship.
“I couldn’t have imagined everything at Argonne; the types of research closely match my goals for the future. Going in, I didn’t really know how my career as a STEM student would look in the future, and Argonne gave me a beautiful look into that.” — Yasleen Muñoz, Harold Washington City College
“There are many students out there who don’t know about national labs like Argonne — or even if they do, they don’t know that there are real, tangible opportunities for them here,” said Rob Schuch, Argonne’s university partnership program manager. “First Look lets students ‘try out’ Argonne and get their first exposure to a national lab. This is the fifth year we’ve run First Look, and the first time since 2019 it has been in-person, so we are pleased to welcome students on-site to see all the cutting-edge research and make connections in-person.”
The students who attended First Look said they left very excited about Argonne, eager to both apply and share the opportunities at the Lab with their friends and classmates. For instance, Abigail MacLeod, a first-year engineering student at Prairie State Community College in Chicago Heights, Ill., has started actively encouraging her STEM club and students throughout her school to apply for internships now that she knows what being at Argonne is like. She admitted to being anxious at the beginning of the visit, but her lively conversations with researchers alleviated her concerns.
“It became very apparent that they were eager to know you just as much as you were to know them,” MacLeod said. “I didn’t fully expect this open acceptance and encouragement to come back. Next time around, I’m going to influence more people to sign up.”
This work was supported in part by DOE, Office of Science and WDTS.
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.