Newswise — This summer, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory launched a revised curriculum for its annual All About Energy (AAE) program, a high school workshop that addresses real-world sustainability issues in local Chicago communities. The newest edition, developed in partnership with the University of Chicago (UChicago) and Project SYNCERE, marks a new direction for Argonne’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach. It is the first time that Argonne has directly shared its curriculum with an outside organization so that their partner can use it to expand STEM education even further.

Based on the Lab’s transportation research and Justice40 initiatives for environmental justice in underrepresented communities, this year’s AAE program took a more focused approach, centered on local communities. Students learned about environmental issues, sustainability and clean energy — particularly through the lens of transportation. Throughout the program, students learned about air pollution’s effects on Chicago communities, as well as the benefits and challenges of advanced-vehicle technologies, electric vehicle adoption and charging infrastructure. Students engaged in both data-driven investigations and hands-on experiences to learn about these topics.

“Now we know that we can successfully share our curricula with other groups, which opens up so many new avenues for STEM outreach and education. Partnerships between Argonne and other organizations combine our unique skills and resources to create more impactful student experiences.” — Jacqueline Otmanski, Learning Center instructor

“My favorite part was the hands-on part,” said Jeremiah Conyers, a student from De La Salle Institute. ​“I decided to participate to get engineering experience and learn about different fields. I have learned more about clean energy and its benefits, and I also gained a new perspective on how sustainability and science benefit the environment and the people in it.”

Students also visited Argonne, where they met professional researchers and toured facilities, including the lab’s Smart Energy Plaza — a former gas station repurposed to charging electric vehicles. Finally, students applied what they learned to develop proposals to make electric vehicle charging more accessible for Chicago communities most at risk of poor air quality due to vehicle emissions. They designed their very own Smart Energy Plaza-inspired charging hubs and even made 3D-printed prototypes of their envisioned stations.

“When the students pitched their ideas to researchers, it was exciting to see them sharing their ideas with the very people they met at the lab weeks before,” said Jacqueline Otmanski, a Learning Center instructor at Argonne. ​“I was impressed by how they applied what they learned from the curriculum and from the professionals; it was evident that they learned and also provided their own source of innovation, so they were already well on their way to become professional STEM researchers themselves.”

Over the years, Argonne has fostered many partnerships with different organizations that share the lab’s interest in STEM education — from schools and universities to community groups to museums and more. For instance, UChicago first co-developed AAE with Argonne over seven years ago, and Argonne has additionally partnered with Project SYNCERE for AAE starting this year.

“The University of Chicago and Argonne share an interest in the advancement of science and a broadening of science opportunities to communities that have traditionally been underserved,” said Shaz Rasul, UChicago’s executive director in Education Partnerships for the Office of Civic Engagement. ​“Bringing our programming together creates new opportunities to share the strengths of the institutions and to incorporate the strengths and talents of young people in Chicago to create new opportunities for communities.”

While much of this year’s curriculum retains the same themes as past years, what makes the new curriculum stand out is that organizations outside of Argonne can replicate and implement the program on their own. Moreover, the curriculum can be adapted to highlight the programming and resources of different organizations. For instance, this year’s curriculum drew upon Project SYNCERE’s 3D printing technology and its hands-on approach to STEM activities.

“The most important part of All About Energy is the overall message about the importance for youth to keep producing ideas to confront problems that the world faces, as well as showing different people from all social classes,” said Darron Harrison, an instructor from Project SYNCERE. ​“The curriculum supports our goals — to get underrepresented students and communities exposed to and interested in pursuing STEM careers — by highlighting issues that underrepresented communities deal with on a regular basis.”

Argonne hopes to continue sharing the AAE curriculum with partners, which may provide a template for designing similarly exportable programs. Doing so will build more partnerships and spread STEM education to more people and at a greater range than Argonne could on its own.

“Now we know that we can successfully share our curricula with other groups, which opens up so many new avenues for STEM outreach and education,” said Otmanski. ​“Partnerships between Argonne and other organizations combine our unique skills and resources to create more impactful student experiences.”

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.