A summer of STEM education

More than 20 students from nine Chicago public high schools are engaging in STEM education this summer as paid interns in the UIC Energy Resources Center’s STEM Scholars program.

STEM Scholars complete a free after-school program, then continue on to the summer internship to further their STEM education on topics related to energy efficiency and engineering, as well as connect with mentors and participate in community projects. The program is funded by the Illinois Science & Energy Innovation Foundation.

“Throughout the internship, interns are further engaged in energy literacy and are given the tools necessary to become energy ambassadors,” said Klaudia Kuklinska, program manager for the STEM Scholars program and research associate in the Energy Resources Center. “As energy ambassadors, interns develop presentations and methodologies to disseminate energy-saving tips throughout surrounding communities.”

The students also are participating in the Field Museum Community Science program, where they help monitor monarch butterflies by observing milkweed plants around the El Paseo Community Garden and record any eggs or caterpillars found.

“I was afraid of bugs and getting dirty, but this program has taught me how to be a team player and better manage my time. I learned how to be more disciplined,” said Iyahnna Galtney, a high school sophomore.

Interns learn to consider the impact of environmental racism and the environmental injustices throughout the Chicago area. Students work to sustain a greenspace in marginalized communities to help combat environmental injustice and engage the surrounding community in environmental conservation. 

“I thought the community garden was just a garden to go and see plants but it’s much more than that, and there is a reason behind the garden. It helps target current issues in Chicago, such as gentrification, and gives the city a space for the community to create something for their needs,” said Freddy Hernandez, a STEM Scholar who will study mechanical engineering at Princeton University this fall.

Soon, the scholars will transition into the energy literacy portion of the internship, where they will learn to become energy ambassadors and distribute IE Energy Savings Kits, sponsored by ComEd. The students will collaborate with local Community Action Agencies to shadow employees and assist in the distribution of the kits.

“I was very excited to create flyers for the energy-saving kits that will be distributed to Hispanic and African American communities. I learned that it’s good to see an opportunity and take it,” said Angel Salas, who will study mechanical engineering this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mentors are also paired with the interns throughout the summer to help them think about their next steps, post-secondary education and resources for success. 

“I’ve learned that a lot of the mentors started from nothing and went up from there by getting help from professors and people around them, so you don’t have to be exceptionally smart to be in STEM — what matters is where your heart is,” said Jera Moses, a STEM Scholar who will study biochemistry at Dominican University this fall.


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