by Sara Glade, Program Instructor
During the summer session, scholars were able to get involved with different Chicago organizations through Serving Through STEM (StS) projects. Because I have a background in Environmental Engineering, I was involved with the StS led by the Alliance for the Great Lakes. The Alliance for the Great Lakes is the oldest protector of the Great Lakes and “works with scientists, policymakers, businesses, community groups and everyday citizens to protect and restore the world’s largest surface freshwater resource.” Six four-hour time slots were devoted to the StS projects, during which scholars explored the issues via field trips and design projects.
On the first day of the StS, our group of 18 scholars were taken on a all-day field trip with Katie from the Alliance. The first stop of the day was to the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, a 2.2 mile stretch of restored habitat along Lake Michigan from 47th to 31st street. As we walked the trails, we learned about ecosystems, plant types, and prairies from representatives from the Field Museum. Scholars participated in an activity where they had to identify plants and animals native to the Chicagoland area. I was happy to see scholars really appreciate the beauty of the site and the impact of nature on people’s emotional and physical well being. After the Wildlife Corridor, we dropped by the 31st street beach to hear how the Alliance for the Great Lakes works to keep beaches clean and preserve water quality in the Great Lakes. After a quick detour to the Alliance’s office, we went to the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, which opened for a few hours just for our group. Scholars took in the marvel of a bridge lift (run with the power of a single car engine), the reversal of the Chicago River, and invasive species threatening Chicago water bodies. The afternoon was spent in the Alliance office soaking in more information from the Sierra Club and the Alliance staff, which helped scholars better think about environmental issues for their projects and for their future career paths alike. Overall, the trip exposed scholars to environmental issues – particularly those focused on water issues facing the Great Lakes.
The remainder of the StS experience was spent working on projects with guidance from Katie, Sarah, and Fiona from the Alliance. Students split into three different teams which each focused on solving a unique environmental area of concern facing the Chicagoland region. The first team’s project was focused on rooftop gardens in schools, the second on better designed, more fun trash cans on city beaches, and the last one was focused on environmental education coupled with rooftop gardens on city trains. The students presented their work to partners and also to family. Overall, the scholars were able to explore their ideas with guidance from the Alliance, collaboration with their fellow scholars, and using the knowledge gained during their field trips. I along with all of the students appreciate the efforts put forth by the Alliance in creating a fun, informative, and well-balanced StS for the scholars.
Sara Glade is a recent graduate of the IIT Armour College of Engineering. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley doing research in water treatment technologies.