Robots Aren’t the Future, Students in STEM Are!February 27, 2023
“The conference room was buzzing with excitement!” is not a sentence that is typically used to describe a meeting, especially on an early Saturday morning. But this wasn’t your typical meeting. this particular ComEd conference room hosted 70 high school students tasked with building robots as part of ComEd’s STEM Labs Program on Saturday, February 11.
To celebrate Black History Month, ComEd hosted an event where local Black high school students worked alongside ComEd mentors to build and operate their own robots and explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to help diversify the pipeline of students pursuing careers in STEM fields.
To demonstrate representation and foster mentorship, the students were partnered with 14 Black professionals who are current ComEd employees. These experts served as mentors and answered questions from “Am I doing this right?” to “What is it like working at ComEd?” These ComEd employees volunteered to serve as mentors through the Exelon African American Resource Alliance (EAARA), an employee resource group at ComEd.
Black Americans make up 12% of the U.S. workforce, but only 9% of STEM workers. Additional research shows that only 7% of the STEM workforce comprises Black Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree. Increasing STEM education exposure for Black high school students increases the likelihood they will pursue opportunities that lead to careers in STEM, according to the National Science Foundation.
“My favorite memory from the event was sitting with two young ladies who expressed interest in becoming cosmetology entrepreneurs and doubted their abilities to assemble a robot successfully. After being the first ones at our table to assemble their robots they said ‘Wow, who knew building robots would actually be fun!’,” said Brittanie Mullings, a STEM Labs mentor and manager of mapping at ComEd. “It made me extremely happy to witness them gain confidence in their skills and abilities to explore a newfound interest in STEM all because of this program.”
In their teams, students built, coded and test-drove small robots under the guidance of special guest, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, a renowned author, chemist and science educator. In addition to building robots, solving STEM challenges, and networking with ComEd mentors and executives, each student received a $250 scholarship upon completing the program.
“ComEd is committed to developing a skilled local workforce by providing opportunities for communities that are historically under-represented in STEM to build experience and confidence in this space,” said Melissa Washington, senior vice president of customer operations at ComEd. “As we move toward a cleaner energy future, we need to build a tech-savvy workforce. We hope that STEM programs like this will inspire students to pursue a STEM-focused career.”
Meet the BHM STEM Labs Mentors:
- “It’s important for Black professionals, like me, to serve as mentors because students are looking for advice from someone who looks like them. Being able to dispel the myths and show a student what success looks like will motivate them to want to do the same,” Yasha Sterling, senior eChannel program manager, ComEd.
- “I am not a STEM professional by trade, but I love math and technology. That’s why I think it’s important we introduce STEM education into the Black community to show students careers they may not know exist. I hope the students left this event with confidence and assurance that they can be great, and know the options in STEM are endless,” Latoya Halmon, customer service representative, ComEd.
- “I believe representation is important because when they see me, it encourages them to envision themselves in STEM careers and furthermore execute that vision. I know how rigorous the STEM workload in college can be, and I want to encourage students, especially young Black boys and girls, to stay the course and know that they have resources they can tap into,” Brittanie Mullings, manager of mapping, ComEd.
- “I volunteered to be a mentor because I want to help young Black students get exposure to careers in STEM and see other Black professionals doing positive things in their community. I know for a fact that if I had been exposed to a program like this back in my day, I would have loved it, and who knows, maybe it would have changed the course of my career,” Shonna Johnson, customer service representative, ComEd.
ComEd STEM Labs is one of the many programs ComEd sponsors to encourage more students of color and women to pursue STEM careers. Other ComEd programs include the ComEd EV Rally a program that provides girls the opportunity to learn about electric vehicles and STEM, connect with female STEM mentors and build electric go-karts, accepting applications now!
Students, parents and educators interested in being notified about upcoming ComEd STEM youth programs and when to apply can join the mailing list: STEMsignUp.com/ComEd.