Postdocs Build Community Through Skyway STEM Conference

For the second year in a row, the Illinois Collegiate Skyway Conference reached out to Argonne postdocs to be the exclusive judging team for their STEM Poster Competition.

The Skyway Conference is a group of eight regional community colleges that compete in twelve sports and cooperate on initiatives in the arts and sciences. The Skyway STEM Poster Competition is an option for students in their first two years of college to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This is a critical time in an undergraduate’s schooling for making decisions on their major and career direction.

sidebar 1Organizers from last year’s host institution, Moraine Valley Community College, reached out to Argonne postdocs to serve as the judging team. The experience was well received by both the student participants and the postdoc judges. There are advantages to all parties involved in this partnership. The postdocs are provided the chance to practice communication skills, critique and meet faculty and staff of regional colleges. The Skyway students are provided encouragement and the possibility to engage with postdocs actively engaged in real-world research. One student, Alex Papak, who was part of the winning team, was also a DOE Community College Intern with Argonne’s Physics Division last summer. Community outreach of this kind definitely helps strengthen the “STEM pipeline.”

This year’s event was hosted by Oakton Community College. The judging team consisted of Postdoc Program Coordinator Tina Henne, Postdocs Elina Vitol, Shalaka Desai, Jay Foley, Amit Sharma, Qingbao Zhao, Rajesh Sankaran, Kah Chun Lau, Antonio Picon Alvarez, Matt Smylie, Diana Berman and Director of Communications for the DOE Chicago Office, Brian Quirke. While deciding who would take home top honors was intense, the judging team considered the event fun and enriching.



Top down: Director of Communications for the DOE Chicago Office Brian Quirke, Diana Berman, Jay Foley, Rajesh Sankaran and Kah Chun Lau.
Left to right: Qingbao Zhao, Elina Vitol, Antonio Picon Alvarez, Amit Sharma and Matt Smylie.

Jay Foley remarked that “It was great to have the ability to interact with younger scientists and to help them think through some questions and make connections scientifically.” It was also noted that the competition provided the chance to learn the interests of scientists outside one’s immediate field of expertise.

Ann Marie Barry, of Oakton Community College and organizer of this year’s competition agreed that the experience has made a positive impact on the student participants.

“The relationship between the Illinois Collegiate Skyway Conference STEM Competition and Argonne National Laboratory is a wonderful partnership,” says Barry, “The chance for students to conduct their research and prepare for presentation to the judges is a challenging educational experience. The Skyway Conference and our member colleges are grateful for the support of Argonne National Laboratory and their generosity in providing access to some of the nation’s most skilled researchers to work with our students.”

Great job to the students, organizers and judging team! We are all looking forward to next year’s competition!


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