The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is a competition that promotes academic excellence among African-American high school students while showcasing their talents in STEM, arts and business fields.
Through the Argonne/ACT-SO High School Research Program (ARP), the AAA ERG collaborates with the local ACT-SO chapter in DuPage County to provide opportunities for high school students to compete in the scientific categories within ACT-SO.
Argonne/ACT-SO High School Research Program (ARP)
Through the ARP, students develop independent research projects with support from a mentor over a period of six months, then present their work in the regional DuPage ACT-SO competition. Winners of the regional competition move on to compete at the national level, where they can win scholarships and prizes to help support their academic goals.
The mission of the ARP is to support the development of a diverse, talented workforce to lead future innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at places like Argonne.
The ARP approaches its mission by facilitating exposure to STEM early on in the workforce pipeline and by focusing on STEM disciplines that often connect poorly to communities of color. Without this pipeline – which includes mentors that challenge students to excel and provide them with access to industry-standard technologies and supportive communities – students can find themselves without the necessary guidance to pursue STEM careers.
Since its launch three years ago, ARP has helped over 50 students pursue research projects and connect with leading scientists and engineers at Argonne. Every year, ARP students have advanced in regional and national competitions; seven have gone on to win gold, silver or bronze medals at the national level.
Along with demonstrated success in helping students advance in competition, ARP has also succeeded in positively shaping students’ attitudes towards STEM. Surveys of past participants reveal that, after going through the program, students reported an increased interest in pursuing a STEM career and an increased understanding of how to be a scientist or engineer.
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ARP has also encouraged many students to pursue further academic studies in STEM-related fields, pursue research internships at Argonne, advocate for STEM learning, and encourage others to participate, including:
Tavis won a gold medal in the 2015 national competition for his Argonne-aided and provisionally patented process for developing cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel. After competing, Tavis returned to Argonne as a keynote speaker to talk to middle school students about his path to STEM. Tavis also went on to participate in the Department of Energy’s highly competitive Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program in 2016.
Bryce received a gold medal in the 2014 national competition for demonstrating group theory as a method to solve the rubric cube. Since then, Bryce has interned at Fermilab and at Argonne through the SULI program. As a SULI intern, Bryce worked on developing a camera system that could be used in vehicles competing in the Department of Energy’s’ EcoCAR series. He now studies electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Asare won a gold medal in the 2016 regional ACT-SO competition for using metagenomics to isolate and identify bacteria in the Chicago River. Asare is now enrolled at the University of Kentucky and is pursue a degree in computer science, and a minor in biology. He continues to engage in research at Argonne as a student research intern.