Feature Story | 8-Nov-2023

Argonne’s STEM mapping project aims to elevate equitable STEM opportunities on Chicago’s South Side

New website helps to identify STEM resources and bridge gaps in nine communities on Chicago’s South Side

DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center in Chicago stands as more than a nonprofit museum. It’s a living testament to the rich history of Africans and African Americans on the city’s South Side, but on a recent autumn evening, it also served as gathering place for numerous South Side community organizations and leaders, coming together for a shared purpose — to explore and discuss the newly launched Argonne National Laboratory South Side STEM Opportunity Landscape Project. This transformative initiative is all about boosting STEM equity in underserved communities by linking existing opportunities and identifying gaps to create pathways to STEM learning.

Developed through a collaboration between Argonne and Northwestern University’s Digital Youth Network and, with input from educators, community organizations and local businesses, the new website seeks to pinpoint STEM resources across nine South Side Chicago communities: Douglas, Oakland, Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Washington Park, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Greater Grand Crossing and South Shore. The website provides access to a variety of community maps and images that aim to illuminate the full spectrum of STEM program providers, locations and learning spaces across all nine communities.

“Argonne’s STEM Opportunity Landscape Project provides a free website that is accessible to anyone looking for more information about STEM learning, workforce and employment opportunities within these nine communities,” said Meridith Bruozas, the institutional partnership director at Argonne.

As part of the Argonne in Chicago initiative that includes an office space in Hyde Park, the South Side STEM Opportunity Landscape Project included extensive data gathering about STEM programming, community learning spaces, workforce development programs and STEM employment opportunities in the nine communities. The collected data was then transformed into accessible digital maps and visuals that create a comprehensive and interactive view of the existing STEM ecosystem.

“This tool can provide valuable insight into crafting deliberate STEM learning pathways K-Career for future emerging economies like AI, clean tech, and energy storage. It can help communities identify and close existing gaps, foster strategic partnerships, and optimize available resources to enrich STEM opportunities,” said Bruozas.

“The data collected showed there are STEM opportunities that already exist in these communities, like makerspaces, computer labs and instructional kitchens, that many people are generally not aware of,” said Argonne STEM Education Partnerships and Outreach Manager Jessica Burgess.

According to Burgess, the STEM inventory being performed as part of the mapping project helps fulfill a need for a unified approach. ​“There’s been a call for a STEM ecosystem in which we can bring people together,” she said. ​“Through the Argonne in Chicago office, the laboratory has the ability to be a convener, building bridges within and between communities to maximize the connections that learners can make as they embark on their educational and career pathways.”

Various organizations have historically offered valuable programming in these communities. However, these programs do not always connect into a larger STEM ecosystem. ​“We take an ecosystem approach when considering learning opportunities available for young people. Building a healthy ecosystem requires intentionality around bringing people and resources together to create a strong web of support that connects existing community resources with youths’ interests at the core. Existing infrastructure in the community (out-of-school time programs, parks, dedicated instructional spaces, and more) shape what our young people can explore and achieve. Our focus is empowering young people to lead healthy, learning, and fulfilling lives,” said Nichole D. Pinkard, faculty director of the Office of Community Education Partnerships at Northwestern University.

In addition to STEM education in schools, the STEM mapping initiative would be helpful for workforce development. ​“By including employers, particularly those that demand math- or engineering-related skills, we can help develop various routes by which members of these communities can achieve new STEM-related possibilities,” said Burgess.

“We are excited to introduce this comprehensive STEM resource to the participating communities,” Bruozas said. ​“With the tool launched, we are looking forward to the next phase of the project — diving into the data with the community — this will include hosting data-driven community conversations and co-creating a plan for what STEM learning looks like on the south side.

By highlighting existing resources, facilitating collaboration, and engaging communities in decision-making, the STEM mapping initiative seeks to create a more equitable and inclusive STEM ecosystem. The project’s impact extends beyond the immediate communities on Chicago’s south side, serving as a model for other regions striving to provide equal access to STEM opportunities.

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://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.

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