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How can high school students help develop plans to clean the air in major U.S. cities? The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is finding out.

Argonne recently partnered with the University of Chicago this summer to sponsor “All About Energy,” a six-week program that gives Chicago public high school students an up-close look at careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and a chance to learn what it means to be a scientist. Now in its second year, the program ran from July 5 through Aug. 15.

According to Shaz Rasul, director of community programs at the University of Chicago, “All About Energy” has been a hit with students, who participated under the auspices of After School Matters, the Chicago not-for-profit that provides opportunities to more than 15,000 teens each year.

“This program provides an opportunity for students to ‘try-on’ the identity of a scientist. There are few, if any, programs like this.” - Meridith Bruozas, manager of Educational Programs and Outreach at Argonne

Founded in 2000, After School Matters creates public–private partnerships to provide enrichment opportunities for students in Chicago’s public high schools, where resources are scarce and such opportunities are limited.

“All About Energy” drew more than 100 applicants, Rasul said, with the Neighborhood Schools Program, one of the university’s community outreach programs, interviewing more than 60 candidates for the 30 spots available.

“We were excited to partner with the University of Chicago on this program,” added Meridith Bruozas, Argonne’s manager of Educational Programs and Outreach. “We built the curriculum here and designed it after a recent Argonne OutLoud event that dealt with building an energy plan.”

Students were organized into six 5-member teams, with each team assigned a different Chicago neighborhood for study. One of their first tasks was to learn about the City of Chicago’s sustainability plan, which calls to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent by 2020. Students met with the city’s chief sustainability officer, who described the plan and answered questions.

Students spent four and a half weeks studying different kinds of alternative energy, learning the pros and cons of each and how they worked.

The program also included field trips. Students made biofuel at Argonne and visited Chicago’s famed Museum of Science and Industry, where they met with the museum’s sustainability officer. They also attended Argonne’s Learning on the Lawn event, where they joined poster presentations by the laboratory’s undergraduate interns.

Teams spent the last week and a half of their program formulating an energy plan for their assigned neighborhood, implementing alternative energy practices with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. The program culminated in an Aug. 15 poster session in which students described their energy plans. Guests included officials from the City of Chicago; members of Argonne, the University of Chicago and After School Matters; and students’ families.

“This program provides an opportunity for students to ‘try-on’ the identity of a scientist,” Bruozas said. “There are few, if any, programs like this.”

Argonne’s Educational Programs Department aims to enrich STEM education through programs that advance the laboratory’s strategic energy, environment and security initiatives. Argonne also seeks to develop new educational programs based on transforming discoveries that further the Department of Energy’s mission of workforce development and science literacy.

“It was really an opportunity like no other,” said Daniel Arenas, an Argonne summer intern who participated in the 2016 STEM program. “The STEM program last year enabled me to network with people who helped me attain a summer internship this year. I worked with chemists and engineers at a level I never thought possible as a high-school graduate. Everyone at Argonne, the University of Chicago and After School Matters shows great interest in every single participant and genuinely wants the best for us.”

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