On a cold January morning, the staff and STEM Facilitators of Project Exploration embarked on a journey to an historic and mysterious place… Argonne National Laboratory! In an effort to shake up our usual training schedule and help to get everyone excited for the marathon of programs happening this Winter/Spring session, I, Jaclyn Carmichael, Program Director, planned an all-day retreat as an opportunity for our STEM Facilitators to reconnect with each other, prep for the start of programs, and work towards building a stronger sense of community and support between everyone. Our wonderful partners at Argonne, Meredith Bruozas (Manager of Educational Programs and Outreach), Sharon Knight (Communications, Education, and Public Affairs Coordinator), and John Domyancich (Learning Lab Coordinator) were amazingly kind and provided us with such and inspiring and historic location for our first offsite retreat! (For those of you that don’t know, Argonne National Laboratory housed some of the original experiments related to the work of the Manhattan Project).
To get everyone awake and ready for the work of the day, we started with some team building exercises, provided by our very own Program Coordinator, Kiara Byrd. She had us working in partners, one partner blindfolded and one not, to direct each other towards an object, which ended up being a stuffed animal. We had people running into each other, some falling, and others getting sent in the wrong direction as we all attempted to complete this task, but by the end, everyone was laughing and joking and started to become more relaxed with each other. Our Executive Director, Natasha Smith-Walker, then took charged and spoke eloquently about what she was expecting from this coming program session, how our work in programs positively affects all of our students, and how our work is moving the work of the STEM Pathways Cooperative forward. It really put everyone in the right mindset to get to work on developing our high quality programs and set the mood for a productive meeting.
I then provided our STEM Facilitators with a Self-Assessment survey to accomplish several things: identify key areas that they are needed for coaching and guidance this semester, help them to realize how many things they were doing well, and also to connect them with each other to provide support in things each of them may be struggling with. It was a very telling and revealing exercise. Several of them thought they were doing badly on things that I would insist they were doing very well, while others shared that it was a great way to recognize how many things they were doing well! Such a confidence boost!
The highlight of the day was a visit from our very own founder, Gabrielle Lyon. Many of our STEM Facilitators and staff have never met her face to face, so it was definitely an exciting experience for all! Gabe, as we lovingly call her, shared with us about what motivated her to start Project Exploration, the original goals of the programs developed, and why the work we do is still relevant and highly valued today in Chicago. Our newest STEM Facilitator, Annie Yung shared with me that “it was very inspiring and an honor to listen to Gabe elaborate on the mission and history of Project Exploration. I hope to utilize the advice that Gabe gave when I’m teaching the students at Woodson!”
We ended the day with presentations from each of our STEM Facilitators that they had prepared. Each of them prepared a 10 minute lesson that they would use in their programs, while the rest of the staff participated and evaluated them. Our staff did not disappoint. We had Kyle (Environmental Adventurers instructor) teaching about predator-prey relations, Meghan (Science Giants and Sisters4Science – Ariel) showing us how working together to build something is an excellent way to introduce engineering principles, Bori Kim (Sisters4Science – Funston) show how a density lesson can be connected to environmental science, medicine, and nutrition, and Angelina (Sisters4Science – Orozco) using the example of birds’ beaks to represent evolution. Angelina shared with me, “The lesson sharing has helped me to know more about my coworkers and just provided me the confidence to reach out to my coworkers and to learn from each other.”
It was so fantastic to see everyone working together and creating a peer-sharing, collaborate environment that will foster communication, as well as setting us up for a fantastic semester of high quality programming! In the words of our STEM Facilitator Meghan Bagley, “The retreat was a great event to get the whole team together to help create a better sense of community. It also helped me think of new ways to keep our programs fresh, fun and on the cutting edge!”
Written by: Jaclyn Carmichael