CHICAGO – In an effort to encourage the scientists and engineers of tomorrow, six diverse energy companies serving northern Illinois and northwest Indiana have formed a new, unprecedented partnership that enhances science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the region.
Called Energizing Student Potential (ESP), the partnership provides a suite of programs to engage and educate teachers and students alike, with an emphasis on the science and industry of energy. The initiative serves students in grades 5 through 8 – a critical time for laying the foundation for careers in STEM fields, including energy. The partnership comprises the Exelon Foundation, ComEd, Nicor Gas, Peoples Gas, North Shore Gas and BP America, organizations representing employers of more than 10,000 energy workers and serving millions of customers in the region.
“ESP is an investment in energy education, our students, and our local communities. This program will give more students access to STEM education, and will help them make connections, understand how the world works, and develop a strong foundation that will prepare them for a successful future,” said John R. Rosales, Commissioner at the Illinois Commerce Commission, who is also a former director at City Colleges of Chicago. “The six utilities’ collaboration on this project is commendable, as is their commitment to ensuring all students in our area can have access to educational programs that will help to nurture, grow, and train our future engineers and innovators.”
“Young people must have scientific and technological literacy more than ever before to succeed in today’s society and economy,” said Mary E. Spruill, executive director of the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED), which is administering the program. “Educators recognize the need for STEM, but many lack access to the resources and expertise needed to engage and support promising students.”
ESP is designed to empower students to explore opportunities in STEM fields and help them discover their own paths to innovation through a variety of classroom subjects. Curricula focus on the science of energy, sources of energy, electricity generation and transmission, transportation, efficiency and conservation, and careers in energy, and use a proven model designed by NEED to achieve measurable results.
“The energy industry is experiencing unprecedented change, and we will need a trained workforce of innovators to solve our region’s greatest energy challenges. This is especially critical because we will need to replace our current workforces as they retire,” said Steve Solomon, president of the Exelon Foundation. “As energy leaders in northern Illinois and northwest Indiana, we have a responsibility to nourish the communities where we live, work and raise our families by investing in educational programs that produce real outcomes.”
An advisory committee of experts will help shape and guide the program. It includes representatives of the Adler Planetarium, Chicago Public Schools, Discovery Center Museum, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Morton Arboretum, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and other organizations.
ESP is bringing 40 schools serving diverse student populations into the program each year, for a total of 120 participating schools in year three. Schools range from public to private to charter schools across the entire region and include schools in historically underserved communities to bring more equity to access to quality STEM education. More than 6,000 students are expected to be involved in the program in the first year alone.
“Being selected for the first year of Energizing Student Potential will mean so much to my students,” said Gerard Kovach, science teacher at John T. McCutcheon Elementary School in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. “One of our greatest challenges is humanity’s relationship with energy and energy use. Our school believes our students should become teachers of our community, as they will be the leaders of today and tomorrow. We are excited to explore and learn and teach.”
“The John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School is very excited to participate in the Energizing Student Potential program and to have the opportunity to have a positive influence on our students’ and their communities’ energy conservation efforts,” said Allison Kapitanoff, teacher leader at the Aurora, Ill., school. “We are a small school, but by virtue of being a ‘partnership’ school, we have the potential to affect huge change while creating student leaders in the process.”
The program began today with a free, two-day hands-on STEM and energy workshop for more than 70 educators at the Museum of Science and Industry and continues throughout the academic year with events and activities for teachers and students. Teachers receive free print materials and teaching guides, standards alignment, hands-on kits and materials for students, and program support. They also receive refresher trainings during the school year.
Among its programs, ESP will provide free, half-day energy audits of participating schools, where students work alongside energy experts to make their schools more energy efficient. The partnership also will arrange student field trips, science competitions and celebrations throughout the academic year to further engage students’ classroom learning with real-world experiences. In addition to funding and facilitating ESP, the six partner organizations will be actively engaged in creating enrichment opportunities for students and teachers, including by having employee volunteers share their time and energy expertise.