By Isi Frank Ativie, Freelance Writer
Ninety-seven teenagers attended the sixth annual Solar Spotlight educational program at the ComEd Chicago Training Center in McKinley Park on Saturday, February 8. Students came from Chicagoland cities such as Rockford, Joliet, and Aurora. The program also hosted urban teens from various neighborhoods and communities.
Solar Spotlight is one of ComEd’s STEM educational programs for adolescent children. The staff members encourage African-American teenagers to learn the insightful details and basics of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
This event is presented every February to honor Black History Month. The Solar Spotlight program includes food, fun activities, and mentorship.
The first event gave students the opportunity to work on solar installation projects on an educational institution building.
The program provided solar kits and informative lessons to students, teaching them how to make energy through solar. The students were assisted by African-American mentors who are employees for ComEd.
“What they’re learning is not just the technology of STEM education, but they’re having an opportunity to interact with the mentors,” ComEd Senior Vice President of Government & External Affairs Melissa Washington said.
“And more importantly, we hope to educate them and get them to be more excited about STEM technology, and that’s the backbone of what we run our business on. We hope to see them again in other STEM events, internships, and eventually employment.”
Most of the mentors specialize in engineering, project management, finance, external affairs, public relations, and communications. They are also devoted members of the Exelon African-American Resource Alliance, an organization that operates in recruiting and developing Black individuals into professional positions.
University of Illinois-Chicago graduate and Distribution Operational Manager Brittanie Mullings enjoys mentoring the younger Black generation exploring the STEM industry.
“These kids are the future,” Mullings stated. “It’s really important for me to be a part of something like that. These kids are looking at me as a representation of where they can go, and that’s why it’s so important for me to be involved in this program every year.”
The ComEd external affairs department reaches out to local high school administrators to promote these annual events and register the students to attend. The company also provides accessible transportation for the students by providing shuttle buses to the solar spotlight programs.
Students like Lincoln Park High School juniors Angelique Fomond and Caniya McCray-Brown were fascinated with what the program has provided them. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, so this program helps me get to that point on where I want to be,” Fomond said. “It not only gives me a better insight on what I need to learn, but it also makes me feel like a better leader. It also helps me to take more chances.”
McCray-Brown was able to share her opinions on women of color reacting towards racism in the STEM industry. “As a girl of color, there will always be obstacles,” McCray-Brown said. “No matter what career path you choose, the way to approach that is not being hateful or bashful to people who prejudge you into not stooping down to a lower level that they’re on.”
Fomond is looking forward to attending the University of Illinois-Chicago in the fall of 2021 to study engineering. McCray-Brown is interested in studying biomedical engineering at Bradley University or Boston University.
ComEd will host another STEM educational program at the Illinois Institute of Technology Saturday, February 15.
Planners say they are expecting another terrific event.