An internship can open many pathways for students. These immersive experiences can expand a young person’s professional network and help them develop marketable skills that are often a ticket to a good first job, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields. But opportunities for college internships in STEM have historically been relatively scarce for students in underserved communities like those on Chicago’s South Side.
Recognizing the need to address this disparity and create equitable access to STEM internships and ultimately STEM careers, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has launched an innovative workforce development program known as Bridge Into Internships. Through the program, Argonne partners with high schools in South Side communities and provides support to students, enabling them to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to become the STEM leaders of tomorrow.
The Bridge Into Internships program, an immersive eight-week summer internship, aims to break down the barriers that have hindered students from underserved communities from pursuing and excelling in STEM fields. By actively engaging with high schools, Argonne aims to nurture and inspire a diverse pool of talent, ultimately working towards a more inclusive and representative STEM workforce.
Under this initiative, Argonne is collaborating closely with schools in nine South Side communities: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn. The program offers real-world exposure to STEM careers as well as professional mentoring. Through hands-on laboratory experiences, access to cutting-edge research facilities, and one-on-one mentoring by experienced professionals in the field, the program seeks to ignite students’ passion for science and technology, while also equipping them with the practical skills necessary for future success.
“Students can face many barriers when it comes to making the transition from high school to, say, completing a STEM major in college or pursuing a STEM career,” said Argonne Manager of STEM Education Learning John Domyancich. “Many high school students have incredible potential in STEM but, for one reason or another, may never have the formative experiences that are essential to strengthening their STEM pathways beyond graduation. Argonne seeks to bridge that gap, to build students STEM identities and their sense of belongingness to the research community.”
“This program is different from any other educational program Argonne offers because it is three-pronged,” added Argonne Manager of STEM Education Partnerships and Outreach Jessica Burgess. “We help students prepare for college, we help them secure college internships, and we help get them ready for their careers.”
The Bridge Into Internships program is one facet of Argonne’s commitment to fostering long-term relationships with South Side communities, actively supporting and nurturing talented students from diverse backgrounds through its Argonne in Chicago initiative. “By expanding access to STEM internships and promoting intentional and supportive educational opportunities, the laboratory strives to contribute to the development of a more inclusive and diverse STEM workforce,” Domyancich said.
In the program, the students work two days a week with scientific mentors at Argonne, gaining valuable exposure to the research and innovation taking place at the laboratory. The remaining three days are dedicated to working with members of Argonne’s Institutional Partnerships team, learning general professional skills that will help prepare them for careers.
“When I first arrived at Argonne, all the science here seemed a little out of reach to people like me,” said South Shore High School senior Saul Arroyo. “But by going through this program, I’ve been able to see how people got here with paths that look a lot like mine, and with their support a career at a place like Argonne no longer seems out of reach.”
Domyancich noted that Argonne continues to maintain a relationship with the students as they go through college. “There is true engagement at every step of the way with the students,” he said. This ongoing support ensures that students receive continuous guidance and mentorship as they pursue higher education and strive towards their STEM career goals.
“Working as colleagues with our mentors, I’ve gotten to see the types of people they are and their educational backgrounds, and I’ve noticed there’s both passion and real diversity,” said University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign incoming freshman Taniya Givens. “It helps me think about what kind of science path might be right for me.”
In addition to the Bridge Into Internships program, Argonne has also launched a STEM Mapping project to identify STEM-related resources and programming, including makerspaces and computer labs, that currently exist in the nine South Side communities. By doing STEM asset mapping, Argonne is undertaking an information gathering process that provides a holistic view of community STEM assets and collective strengths.
With initiatives like Bridge Into Internships and STEM Mapping, Argonne is paving the way for a brighter future, where every student has equal opportunities to succeed and make a meaningful impact in the world of science and technology.
This work was supported in part by DOE, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists.
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.