Fifty economically disadvantaged high school freshmen, including one from Logan Square, took part in a five-month seminar in preparation of possible STEM careers.
Miamaya Parra, a freshman in Oak Park and resident of Logan Square, was one of the students selected to take part in the program as part of the HFS Chicago Scholars.
The program includes five workshops and an immersive project under the guidance of engineers acting as mentors for the students.
For both ComEd and HFS, the need to bring STEM education to underserved communities was vital.
“What we’re seeing in the utility industry is that there are increasing needs for employees with particular STEM skills but at the same time, there aren’t enough students pursuing the educational STEM paths,” ComEd said in a statement.
“This is a challenge that is particularly intense in communities that are traditionally underserved. Understanding this, ComEd began a collaboration with HFS Chicago Scholars to provide talented high school students from economically under-privileged backgrounds a four-year program in which they learn the principles of electrical engineering, are exposed to advanced technologies, and are mentored by professional engineers.”
For Parra, that involved an extensive look into the way technologies are changing how we interact with the world.
“One of my favorite parts of the program was visiting the art museum, and learning not only how art is made but the science behind it.”
Students also got first-hand exposure to various careers in the STEM field, meeting with ComEd engineers and even the COO, learning how they used their education in STEM fields to work their way up the company.
Each group of students (about five or six) were designated to come up with a project that involved smart city solutions to help save and use energy efficiently. For Parra, the inspiration came when looking at cities in Michigan.
“One team member told us how Michigan cities move tap water around to use for energy, so we decided to come up with a blueprint on how to use rainwater and water from snow,” said Parra.
“Chicago gets almost four months [worth] of water from snow and rain, so we wanted to see how we could make that water drinkable and how to incorporate it into the city for energy. That would also lower people’s energy and water bills.”
The students were able to design and test ideas using computer programs.
“We ran scenarios that used gutters to collect the water and then travel to a canister with a motor, similar to how dams use hydropower.”
One of the ultimate goals of the program, from ComEd’s perspective, is to increase interest in STEM jobs.
“Most importantly, ComEd is hoping to foster the next generation of innovators. These are the very students who will create the new products and processes that will sustain the future economy,” ComEd said.
For Parra, the program has opened her eyes to the career possibilities.
“Personally, I’m still leaning towards a medical career,” she jokes, “but ComEd made me consider looking at something else. Learning how energy and technology are affecting people across the whole world; it gives you a different prospective. The majority of students are kids from low income, and a lot of them are driven to help people in this way.”
Overall, Parra is grateful for a glimpse into the STEM world, and from the extracurricular skills it helped her hone.
“I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to meet people and have this hands-on experience,” she says. “We’ve also learned how to work together, and how to try to put together ideas and make a clear vision of a project. More students should have access to programs like this.”
Students will showcase their final work this Sunday, June 2, and the top three finishers will be awarded $4,000 in scholarships.