Extending a hand: Argonne Hispanic Latino Club mentors Chicago-area studentsBy Justin H.S. Breaux • October 23, 2014
Argonne, Ill. – Forty students from Humphrey Middle School in Bolingbrook, Ill., converged on Argonne National Laboratory for a day of fun, mentoring and experimentation as part of the laboratory’s 10th annual Hispanic Educational Outreach Day on Oct. 14.
The event, coordinated by the Hispanic Latino Club (HLC) of Argonne, invited Chicago area Hispanic students to the lab to give them hands-on experiences in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Ranging from 6th to 8th grade, the students conducted experiments, created presentations and explored career opportunities in STEM-related fields.
“The STEM fields are experiencing a massive deficit in the number of Hispanics and blacks, mostly, because poorer communities lack exposure to these types of professionals,” said Michael Kaminski, HLC president and Argonne principal materials engineer. “By the time they reach 7th or 8th grade, these kids already have made decisions on what they feel they can do, and typically, STEM careers are not in that plan.”
For the HLC, creating that spark of interest that allows young learners to envision themselves in science careers means presenting them with opportunities to do the work. This is why the organization focuses its outreach efforts on exposing a small group of students to the process of science and how scientists analyze data to find solutions.
“We have big challenges to overcome, and our youth of today will be asked to explore and solve these challenges,” said Meridith Bruozas, Argonne's educational programs manager. “Initiatives like these are imperative to inspiring our best and brightest students towards STEM careers.”
Students began their day in the lower gallery of the Advanced Photon Source where they learned about Argonne and the types of research the laboratory conducts. Smaller groups were then guided through several different types of experiments led by Argonne staff.
Some students practiced extracting DNA and learned about how doctors safely use radiation to diagnose disease to provide therapies. Others explored the world of superconductivity and played detective using a spectrometer to analyze materials to solve a crime. Students also had the opportunity to create non-radioactive clay pellets similar to the ones used by researchers as fuel for nuclear reactors. In this session, Kaminski explained how nuclear energy is created and what other types of energy research Argonne conducts.
During lunch, students were mentored by several Hispanic staff members, including Argonne researchers and support personnel from the Department of Energy and facilities management. In these one-on-one conversations, staff talked to students about what they do at the lab and how their education got them where they are.
Students wrapped up their experience in the afternoon by giving presentations on what they learned during the day. With a little help from pre-formatted PowerPoint templates, students explained the process and their research findings and engaged each other about how to make the study of science a career choice.
“We are a small organization, but after 10 years we are starting to see the growth of our efforts,” said Kaminski. “One school at a time, we are either going out into the community or bringing these bright young minds to Argonne to give them the information and opportunity for a new vision of their future.”
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. For more, visit www.anl.gov.