Skip to main content
Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

STEM program inspires students to advance environmental sustainability and social justice in Chicago communities

In its fifth year, Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago’s All About Energy program continues to advance environmental and social justice improvements across Chicago.

This past summer, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement successfully collaborated for a virtual version of the All About Energy (AAE) high school summer program, a social and environmental justice pre-internship program that the two institutions have run for the past five years with the Chicago nonprofit After School Matters. AAE works to help high school students find ways to improve the quality of life in their Chicago neighborhoods through sustainability solutions.

This year’s AAE program included 32 students from 22 different schools across Chicago. All About Energy is important to both Argonne and UChicago, not only for the partnership it builds with our institutions, but also for creating positive change in local communities,” said Argonne Educational Programs and Outreach manager Meridith Bruozas. We strongly value using science to improve sustainability and general quality of life for everyone, and All About Energy shows students that they personally can apply their science skills to challenges in their homes and in the world, preparing them to become the nation’s next generation of science, technology, engineering and math problem solvers.”

All About Energy is important to both Argonne and UChicago, not only for the partnership it builds with our institutions, but also for creating positive change in local communities.” — Meridith Bruozas, Educational Programs and Outreach manager, Argonne.

During the first several weeks, students learned about the importance of social and environmental problems, along with their effect on communities and the world. Social justice matters, because all people from different backgrounds, everyone, should have equal opportunities,” explained participant Deairra Fox. There are a lot of communities that are segregated, and if there is a way that we can change that, then that could change many things. We can make this world better.”

The camp helps participants realize how environmental and social conditions often influence each another and must be solved together for lasting change.

Beyond just studying environmental and social issues, students worked to solve problems in the real world, as teams developed their own neighborhood action plans. Each action plan supported sustainability in Chicago communities, such as community gardens, water recycling, green architecture and public transportation. For instance, the group studying the Pullman neighborhood decided to start a local food depository, letting restaurants and businesses send food scraps to soup kitchens and shelters instead of throwing them out. In fact, they set up a Facebook group called Pullman Environmentalists to spread sustainability awareness.

Students presented their action plans to a diverse audience at the annual All About Energy Slam. Taking place during the program’s final day on Thursday, August 13, the virtual event connected students with Argonne and UChicago faculty, family and professionals from across the Chicagoland area.

If I was able to tell my past self, before the program that my favorite part would be presenting, I would not have believed myself,” Novotna Talavera, part of the Pullman team, said later. But because I felt confident in what I was saying and I was passionate about the plan, my nerves dissolved and I was able to enjoy presenting the hard work my team and I completed.”

Even before the final presentation, an environmental advocate reached out to the Pullman team about supporting a charity fund the group started with the project. This shows just how connected many of these projects are to the real-world communities that the teams want to help. Many participants are confident that their plans can bring positive change to Chicago.

I do see my group’s sustainability proposal being successful in strengthening the environment if it were to be implemented, unifying the Pullman community for years to come,” said Talavera.

Argonne and the U Chicago alike were proud of this year’s amazing teams, seeing their strong potential for advancing sustainability efforts in Chicago and the world.

One of our missions at Argonne is to inspire and to nurture the next generation of STEM problem solvers and I really want to tell each of you that you have earned the title,” said Argonne Learning Center lead John Domyancich during the All About Energy Slam. I want to encourage you to look for those solutions and to be those creative thinkers that can change the world, because that’s what we need now more than ever.”

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://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.