Baxter and other participating companies recently came together with 125 Chicago-area high school students to mark the conclusion of the first year of the Illinois Science and Technology Institute's R&D STEM Learning Exchange STEM Challenges at a celebration of achievement held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Throughout the semester, participating students tackled real-world STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) problems with industry professionals as part of STEM Challenges. Baxter and other corporate sponsors collaborated with more than 400 students and 20 teachers from 12 Illinois high schools during the initiative—including Baxter partner schools Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA), Lindblom Math and Science Academy and Muchin College Prep High School.
"What I liked most about our STEM Challenge is that it combined a number of initiatives that Baxter supports, including promoting careers in STEM and supporting math and science programs at select CPS schools," said Selene Mojica, Baxter senior manager, ethics and compliance. Mojica, along with Baxter colleague Monica Torres, manager, environment, health and safety, volunteered with students from IHSCA throughout the school's STEM Challenge.
Students Explore Science-Based Solutions to Environmental and Health Issues
Early this year, each participating school was given a "problem statement" for their students to address. Baxter developed problem statements for IHSCA, Lindblom and Muchin, presented them to each school's teachers, and provided support as the students developed their projects.
Since IHSCA's problem statement focused on sustainability, Mojica and Torres worked with students on site at IHSCA to address issues relating to energy use and water quality on their campus. Students tested water quality using chemical kits and donned thermal imaging goggles to identify sources of energy loss. The students found that the major sources of heat loss were a skylight and plugged-in devices, and drafted an email to administrators and staff advising them to unplug electronics when not in use.
Torres and Mojica also took the opportunity to educate the students about other environmental issues, including recycling.
"Learning from Baxter has changed my views on recycling, now that I know the true outcome of not recycling," said Darianne,* who will be entering into her junior year at IHSCA.
Through the STEM Challenges, students not only have the opportunity to learn about diverse science, math, engineering and technology topics and to hone their analytical and research-based skills, but to also gain exposure to companies in STEM fields.
"Because Baxter is a global company, this project benefits students because they are able to see the real issues that our partner companies encounter. It helps students to get beyond the scope of high school to see what their future could be like," said Don Bibly, biology teacher at IHSCA.
IHSCA freshman and sophomores presented the results of their project at Baxter's Deerfield headquarters to Baxter EHS employees, and plan on presenting their results not only to their high school but also to other schools in the area.
"The students were amazing," said Mojica. "For freshman and sophomores, their presentation skills are really heightened, and they handled questions off the cuff without missing a beat."
The STEM Challenges were part of the R&D STEM Learning Exchange, led by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) as part of Illinois Pathways, a $10.3 million initiative launched last year to better prepare students to compete in the global economy. The R&D STEM Learning Exchange is designed to coordinate investments, resources and planning for programs that empower youth and adults to explore academic and career interests in STEM fields.
ISTI plans to expand its R&D STEM Learning Exchange to 25 schools next year, and intends to add additional challenges and mentorship opportunities. Baxter aims to continue working with ISTI's R&D STEM Learning Exchange, through both the STEM Challenges and ISTI's new Mentor Matching Engine, an online platform that connects high schools students and their teachers to STEM professionals from Illinois companies and research institutions.
"As a science and technology based company, promoting educational opportunities for students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math is important for building skills required for careers in the healthcare industry and in other STEM-related fields," said Mojica.
Watch this video to learn more about Baxter's involvement in the STEM Challenges.
*Last name withheld for privacy reasons.