For the second year, ComEd is sparking curiosity among Chicagoland high school students by bringing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education to their homes through ComEd STEM Home Labs. The program was created during the COVID-19 pandemic to safely continue to bring STEM programming and mentorship to Black and Hispanic students, as women and people of color continue to be dramatically underrepresented in STEM fields.
ComEd engineers and Dr. Kate Biberdorf, also known as “Kate the Chemist,” led nearly 100 students in three virtual “build days” over the last week, as they participated in a simulated mission to Mars by solving STEM-related challenges that included building their own Mars Rover. ComEd STEM Home Labs culminates today with an in-person event in which students use their rovers to navigate various “Marscapes,” with each teen using their own rover and learned skills to complete tasks.
“Strengthening our commitment to STEM education among diverse youth is critical to helping close the gap that exists for women and minorities in STEM careers,” said Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of technical services at ComEd. “For more than seven years, ComEd has provided year-round programming that inspires students to build confidence, knowledge and career paths in STEM to open doors of opportunity and help pave the way for future diverse STEM leaders. ComEd STEM Home Labs is just one avenue to achieve that.”
Students received ComEd STEM Home Lab kits with materials needed for the three build days. Over the course of the build days, students worked to build mini, wirelessly-controlled rovers, coded for the rovers, and installed cameras to find the lost rovers and explore Mars. Students learned from influential scientists while collaborating with other students interested in pursuing STEM-related careers.
STEM programming and mentorship at an early age are keys to pursuing these career opportunities. According to Pew Research, Black and Hispanic workers also continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Black workers make up 11 percent of the U.S. workforce overall but represent 9 percent of STEM workers, while Hispanic workers comprise 16 percent of the U.S. workforce but only 7 percent of all STEM workers.
In 2019, women made up 28 percent of the jobs within the STEM workforce — despite making up 50 percent of the national workforce, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. The STEM field is even less inclusive of Black and Latina women, who represent only one out of 20 employed scientists.
ComEd STEM Home Labs is one example of ComEd’s year-round programming to engage the next generation of local STEM talent and increase diverse representation in the STEM field. Other ComEd programs include Solar Spotlightevents during Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, and the ComEd Icebox Derby for Chicagoland girls.