Welcome to all kinds of summer

Tim Meyer

April showers bring May flowers, which bring June summer students to Fermilab. And by summer students, I mean all types of people (including some teachers!) from all over to participate in all kinds of opportunities at the laboratory. Some are already trickling in!

There are two guiding principles to Fermilab’s summer programs that shape almost everything we do. The first is about why: Fermilab offers summer opportunities to students and teachers as part of the fundamental value proposition of publicly funded basic research — to “inspire the next generation and create its leaders” by attracting students to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) education and careers. The second is about how: Fermilab seeks to create and celebrate role models in this area so as to amplify and extend impact.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these principles.

Many of us believe that critical thinking and problem solving are important skills for citizens of the modern world. These ways of knowing and learning are a crucial approach that our society needs (more of) not only to survive but also flourish. As a performer of basic research for the public good, Fermilab has the special opportunity, and some would say the obligation, to support this quest. So we find ways to share our basic-research endeavor with people outside the laboratory.

Our Fermilab summer is about widely opening laboratory doors to give students and teachers a true experience of the thrill and challenge of what we do. Mentors prepare special work assignments for the “summers” so that they experience accomplishment and satisfaction, and work groups provide a safe, constructive learning environment that fosters respect for evidence-based reasoning.

We are very serious about this. Fermilab’s SIST program is the longest-running summer undergraduate internship program among the DOE laboratories, and this summer it celebrates 45 years. Congratulations! Fermilab’s TARGET program for high school students, with a focus on underrepresented minorities in STEM, celebrates 35 years this summer. Congratulations!

If we press in further, we reveal the second principle: creating and celebrating role models. Benjamin Carver, Emmy Noether and Albert Einstein are heroes for many of us. According to Joseph Campbell, a hero is someone who not only overcomes adversity by climbing the mountain, but also comes back from the mountain to share the story. A key element of our mission at Fermilab is to help students and teachers “climb the mountain” and then to share and celebrate their accomplishments. An individual can magnify her impact by inspiring others. A young person from East St. Louis or a middle-aged teacher from Chicago can become a hero for others when he is not just satisfied but also thrilled with his experiences at Fermilab.

Fermilab has contributed to the success of some role models such as Aziza Baccouche, Gabriel Caceres, Alicia Clay, Byron Freelon, William Hoston Jr., Reginald Perry, Arnold Tharrington and Mayda Velasco. I thank our entire community for contributing to their accomplishments, and I challenge you to continue and expand your good work. Moreover, we can be (a little bit) selfish – if there are good students in your programs, invite them to join our team and work at Fermilab and the DOE laboratory system.

To find out more about our programs and how you might participate, please contact me, Marge Bardeen or Sandra Charles.

As a citizen of Fermilab, what does this all mean for me? I am currently scheduling my 18-month-old daughter’s first tour of the Tevatron tunnels as well as her first Prairie Rangers course. Whether or not she becomes a scientist or engineer, she will appreciate and respect STEM!

Summer is almost here, and Tim Meyer’s daughter is already learning to appreciate nature through keen observation.