When Alice Gao initially applied for the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in 2022, she hesitated.
“When I saw the list of requirements, I wondered if I was willing to put in all the effort, when my chance of getting the internship seemed really low,” she said.
But Gao did get into the program, through which she gained a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). That’s why she signed up to be one of Argonne’s Student STEM Ambassadors — so she can inform and empower other students to apply when they might not otherwise.
“I remember that when I was applying, I attended those events and liked the panels, so it was nice to be on the panel myself. It was also nice to think back on what I wished the panelists had told me back then, and be the one to share that information with interns myself.” — Alice Gao, Student STEM Ambassador
“Thinking back to how beneficial the internship was to me, I wanted to make sure that when someone else had that moment of doubt, that I could be there to tell them, ‘It’s worth it. Do it.’”
The Student STEM Ambassador program developed as a way to better connect Argonne’s college internship programs with students and schools — especially underrepresented groups and minority-serving institutions — by having past and present interns participate in the recruitment events themselves. The students themselves provide unique perspectives for more directed and impactful outreach, as they know what drew them into internships at Argonne.
For instance, some of the student ambassadors previously attended First Look@Argonne, a day-long preview into the intern experience at Argonne that acts as one of many recruitment programs for STEM students from underrepresented groups. Now they had a chance to shape the presentation in the way they would have liked it back then.
“I remember that when I was applying, I attended those events and liked the panels, so it was nice to be on the panel myself,” said Gao. “It was also nice to think back on what I wished the panelists had told me back then, and be the one to share that information with interns myself.”
Student ambassadors organize and run a wide range of other outreach and recruitment activities on behalf of Argonne, from running recruitment panels to giving tours of the lab’s campus. David Lopez found that hosting a tour for his school’s engineering club came easy, due to his experience in Richard J. Daley College’s student government. Because of his tour, at least one student participated in an Argonne program (RENEW Pathways in Physical Science Summer School) when they otherwise would not have considered it. Likewise, other outreach events yielded the placement of more than eight students in Argonne’s internship programs.
“I definitely feel proud for organizing that campus tour,” Lopez said. “It was my first time doing something like that, and I felt very satisfied, knowing that I was able to gather students I know and show them the possibilities here at Argonne. It’s also satisfying to know that I helped someone participate in a program here. Being exposed to a national lab and trying to understand what it means to be a researcher greatly benefit students.”
Not only have student ambassadors left positive impacts on other students, but they themselves have benefited from the program, becoming more confident leaders and gaining critical communication skills. They also learn personal responsibility by managing large-scale events on their own.
“It was fulfilling to actually do everything from start to finish, because you have ownership of that event,” Gao said. “Afterwards, a lot of people came to me and said things like, ‘Thank you so much for organizing this event’ and ‘You were really well-spoken.’ I think it was impactful, and that definitely made it all feel worth it.”
This work was supported in part by the DOE, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (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.