Empowering Communities

Youth Get Energized About the Science of Solar

March 8, 2018

On the last Saturday of Black History Month, a group African-American students from across Chicago gathered to get hands-on experience with solar energy, as well as some high-level inspiration about career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The session was the second in the 2018 Solar Spotlight program, where students learn about solar energy while working on projects that improve their communities. A week earlier, the same cohort of students were at Illinois Tech’s Crown Hall to build “solar suitcases,” easy-to-use portable power units that provide reliable lighting and power for mobile communication, laptops, and small medical devices.

This second session, which took place at the ComEd Training Center in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, started with a discussion about the science of solar energy and a pep talk about the opportunities that exist in STEM fields. The students then broke out into smaller groups to build a circuit series using solar cells. They practiced soldering techniques to connect the solar cells into the circuit series, measured voltages and currents, and performed basic wiring to power an LED light.

The students were then given a challenge. With some basic calculations provided, they were asked whether they were building a “series” or “parallel” circuit. It’s a question that most people couldn’t even comprehend; but these 13- to 18-year-old students answered enthusiastically.

The day wasn’t just about technical instruction. It also provided the kids with inspiration about careers in STEM fields. Emile and Kelley Cambry, founders of Blue Studios and renowned advocates of STEM education, gave a talk about the career opportunities young African Americans can embrace in STEM.

A student named Sean said he liked the compact schedule. “This is very hands-on, and we’re learning a lot in a short amount time,” he said. “At school, the teaching is spread out, whereas here we’re learning a lot very quickly.”

The lead mentors for the day were ComEd’s Okechukwu Chika, principal project manager, and Brittanie Mullings, work planner in the Southwest Region. “I love giving back to the community through programs like this that mentor youth program,” Mullings said. “It’s very rewarding to see young people having fun with a topic that also just happens to provide a path to a bright future.”

A number of ComEd executives were also on hand to offer encouragement to the students. Isaac Akridge, vice president of distribution operations, Chicago Region, and Melissa Washington, vice president of external affairs and large customer services, told the students that it’s never too early to think about their future.

Students were given certificates signifying their graduation from the program and received solar-powered phone chargers and T-shirts as keepsakes.