First Followers is a Champaign-Urbana-based re-entry program that provides guidance for those impacted by the criminal justice system. GoMAD (Go Make A Difference) is a program within the First Followers that specifically targets people around the ages of 18-24. GoMAD teaches practical employment skills and prepares participants for apprenticeship programs in areas including construction.
Grace Wilken, a researcher at ISTC, organized this partnership to educate the young people in the program about some of the available career paths at the university level in facilities management, earth science, biology, chemistry, and engineering. The current cohort recently toured ISTC to learn about career possibilities in sustainability.
First, the group attended short presentations by Wilkin and Perry Akrie. Wilkin focused on her research with different types of algae and their applications. She talked about sustainability, what it means, and why it is so important for society. Akrie discussed earth science disciplines and possible career paths for people who earn those degrees. Earth science is underrepresented in many high school curriculums and minorities have been historically been underrepresented these fields.
Next, the group toured the ISTC lab space to show the researcher’s day-to-day work. The tour concluded with a walkthrough of the greenhouse space by Vanessa DeShambo, who showcased her work with sustainable algae systems. Her projects seek to address the food-water-energy nexus and integrate wastewater treatment improvements, food production, and energy savings.
The young men in the cohort were excited to learn more about the various uses of algae and in the idea of earth science as a possible career path.