Pollution, food accessibility, transportation and lead exposure are just some of the sustainability concerns found throughout various Chicago communities.
Students from those communities participated in a data-focused program examining those issues as they prepared for careers as future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
In the annual All About Energy (AAE) program, students embark on a six-week apprenticeship that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory hosts in collaboration with the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement and After School Matters.
“To address sustainability issues, you need to consider not only environmental concerns, but also social and economic factors. The new curriculum for AAE prepares students to strengthen their data analysis skills in order to draw conclusions and develop evidence-based arguments. Furthermore, it empowers them to advocate for communities as STEM leaders, no matter what pathway they choose for their studies and careers.” — Jacqueline Otmanski, Learning Center instructor
This year marked a new beginning for AAE in more ways than one. Not only did AAE feature in-person activities for the first time since the start of the pandemic in 2020, but the program also had a much different theme than even just a year ago. Instead of centering the activities on sustainability plans like in the past, the staff running the program took AAE in a different direction: analyzing data and preparing data-driven advocacy.
AAE challenges high school students from across Chicago to research data and raise awareness of environmental justice issues that affect local communities. Students analyzed data via mapping tools and other public data sets to identify local communities’ specific concerns and determine how different factors overlap.
“To address sustainability issues, you need to consider not only environmental concerns, but also social and economic factors,” said Argonne’s Learning Center instructor, Jacqueline Otmanski. “The new curriculum for AAE prepares students to strengthen their data analysis skills in order to draw conclusions and develop evidence-based arguments. Furthermore, it empowers them to advocate for communities as STEM leaders, no matter what pathway they choose for their studies and careers.”
Inspired by Argonne’s ongoing research into electrical vehicle accessibility as part of the federal Justice40 initiative to support environmental justice, the AAE program kicked off with a camp-wide data investigation on electric vehicle accessibility. Through this process, students learned data analysis skills. The remaining weeks, students worked on group projects on different environmental justice topics in Chicago, ranging from water runoff, to food accessibility, to health.
In addition, AAE students had the opportunity to visit Argonne and attend its annual Learning on the Lawn poster symposium for research interns — held in person for the first time since 2020. While there, AAE participants also toured several facilities at the lab, including the Smart Energy Plaza and the Center for Transportation Research.
“AAE definitely opened my eyes to the reality of environmental injustice in Chicago and the severity of the problem,” said high school student Meghan Cuddy. She studied air pollution in Chicago for her project and saw how poor air quality harms communities on the south side of the city. “I hope to continue to work in environmental science and to one day help solve the problems that we learned about in the program.”
This year’s focus on building important skills like data analysis and networking left a positive impact on students and staff alike.
“The great thing about AAE is that this is truly a community effort,” said Argonne’s Learning Center program coordinator, Azucena Rodriguez. “Not only do we collaborate with the UChicago for the program, but we design AAE to be accessible for Chicago students. The environmental challenges that students research and find solutions to have direct impact on their communities. These new changes to the curriculum will build ties between Argonne and Chicago communities, and they will empower the next generation of local STEM leaders.”
To learn more about how students discover new possibilities in STEM with Argonne through AAE and other programs at the lab, check out the Argonne Education Instagram page.
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.