Newswise — To become the diverse and talented workforce of today and tomorrow, learners of all ages and from every community need access to educational and training resources in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). There are many schools and organizations working to inspire, motivate and train learners of all ages in historically underserved neighborhoods of Chicago. To better understand these current resources and to grow and sustain a robust STEM ecosystem, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has undertaken a STEM mapping project, called the STEM Opportunity Landscape Project, in nine south side Chicago neighborhoods.

STEM asset mapping consists of an information gathering process that involves identifying all STEM programming, community learning spaces, workforce development programs and STEM employment opportunities in a neighborhood. The collected data is then depicted in the form of maps and other visualizations, creating a comprehensive and interactive STEM opportunity landscape.

STEM mapping provides communities a holistic view of their community assets and collective strengths, enabling them to leverage these resources effectively. The maps and visualizations reflect STEM assets and opportunities that serve students from kindergarten to their careers, and they have just been made fully accessible to the public.

“Argonne’s STEM Opportunity Landscape Project provides a free website that elevates the STEM learning, workforce and employment opportunities within these nine communities for learners of all ages. This tool provides valuable insight into crafting deliberate STEM learning pathways K-Career, addressing and closing existing gaps, fostering strategic partnerships, and optimizing available resources to enrich STEM opportunities,” 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 STEM mapping project focuses on the following nine communities: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn.  The mapping project collected survey data from learning spaces, including schools, within these communities to identify potential linkages between them. “There are places that already exist in these communities, like makerspaces, computer labs and instructional kitchens, that a lot of 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. “The STEM mapping project offers us a really good view of the current state of the landscape, so that the schools, organizations and employers that work in these communities can identify strengths and weaknesses and ultimately drive connected learner pathways that provide skill development for learners that will eventually lead to STEM careers,” Burgess said.

In addition to STEM education in schools, Burgess also described ways in which 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,” she said.

“We are excited to introduce this comprehensive STEM resource to the participating communities,” Bruozas said. “With the tool launched, we are excited about 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.