Early in his administration, President Barack Obama spoke out about the importance of focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in education and the U.S. Department of Education has estimated that the United States will need to add 1 million more STEM professionals to the workforce by 2022.
While waves have been being made across the country to get young people interested in STEM careers, African Americans are still underrepresented among people who have STEM degrees in Illinois, and in fact, the share of STEM degrees belonging to African-Americans in Illinois fell to 5.4 percent in 2017 from 6.5 percent in 2013, according to statistics provided by ComEd.
In an effort to engage young people in Chicago and as a way to celebrate Black History Month, ComEd is hosting their fourth annual Solar Spotlight program which is designed to expose African-American high school students to opportunities in STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
“Solar Spotlight is ComEd’s way of getting African American high school students interested in STEM-related careers. What we do is we try to give them a mini experience by exposing them to the fundamentals of energy and we do it in a fun way. We try to give them an understanding of solar technology and we couple it with some type of practical application where they get to be hands-on and understand the practices of the technical information that we just shared with them,” said Melissa Washington, vice president of government and external affairs for ComEd.
The first Solar Spotlight event took place on Feb. 2 at the Illinois Institute of Technology and there will be a second event on Feb. 9 at the ComEd Training Center in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. Nearly 60 high school students will participate in the two-day educational session and interact with STEM professionals, including ComEd engineers and executives, according to a press release from ComEd announcing the event.
“One of the things that we have seen statistically is that the African American representation within engineering careers is significantly low. When we look at the statistics, we want to contribute, and actually we are passionate about being part of the effort to change that and increase the number of African Americans that are choosing to go into this field. During black history month you are really focusing on trailblazers and people who are doing things and making a difference every day and taking things to a new level so we want to bring this to the African American students during black history month because we want them to be the future trailblazers,” said Washington.
During this year’s Solar Spotlight event, students are building self-contained, solar-powered grow boxes that can grow more than a pound of mushrooms a week. In building the boxes, students will learn about the hardware and software that power them while simultaneously learning about food deserts in Chicago and why some communities are at a greater risk for them.
For more information about ComEd Solar Spotlight, visit ComEd.com/Solar-Spotlight.