I have lost track of how many years I have been doing this. I think this is the fifth year mentoring Chicago high school students as part of the Illinois STEM Challenge, but it could be the sixth.

This year was different from the previous two. I was able to work directly with the students rather than remotely via messages and video chats.

The COVID pandemic hit the United States in 2020, interrupting the school year's end and forcing the cancellation of the student showcase. In 2021, every Chicago public school held classes virtually, so this program was 100% virtual. 2022 was a hybrid model, but I could only attend in person a few times, thanks to a demanding day job. But this year, I worked in person with the students for almost four months, helping them form and develop ideas on how to use technology to make the world more sustainable.

During the four-month program, each team of 3-6 students designed a project around the theme of sustainability.

After months of work, the four teams presented their ideas to the class and the mentors. The projects included:

  • Adding sustainability information to garment receipts to provide better transparency to consumers
  • Self-driving robots that can speed up the loading and unloading of trucks, reducing emissions
  • Water-powered vehicles, reducing the consumption of non-renewable carbon fuels
  • A browser plug-in for Bing that displayed a sustainability score whenever it listed a company and allowed users to earn points for supporting sustainable companies

The other mentors and I selected Team 8 to represent their school at the ISTC Showcase. We chose the Bing plug-in based on an excellent demo they created. We then helped the team to refine their presentation and their speaking skills.

On April 27, Team 8 presented their project to a larger audience at the Showcase in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood. It was their best delivery yet, which impressed those who saw it.

I am already looking forward to next year!