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Shedd Aquarium Offers Refreshed Teen Work-Study Program to Fuel Career Readiness, Environmental Literacy

Chicago Teens Gain Real-World Experience and Earn Funds at World-Class Aquarium

April 13, 2023

Two teen participants in Shedd's Teen Work-Study Program handle basil at Metro Farms, a partner organization.

Photo by: ©Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger

Shedd Aquarium launched a new model for its Teen Work-Study program to help further the connection between career readiness and mission-driven learning opportunities related to the natural world and its aquatic environments. In this program, teens earn a job at Shedd and through a combination of professional coaching and academic rigor, will contribute to large-scale, strategic projects. This refreshed program will serve as one of many tangible ways the aquarium continues to work toward expanding access to environmental education and nature as part of larger Centennial Commitment goals for deeper community investment and partnership.

“As a world-class aquarium, we have many touch points to inspire and prepare the next generation of aquatic advocates – from field trips and summer camps to nature days and workshops – and we work to connect meaningfully with youth throughout their learning journey,” said Lisa Junkin Lopez, vice president of learning and community at Shedd Aquarium. “Teen Work-Study represents one of many pathways we are offering to empower Chicago’s young people, deepen science learning and increase environmental literacy with equity and access at the center of these ambitions.”

Teens come to Shedd each Saturday for 16 weeks and receive compensation for their time at the aquarium. While working alongside Shedd’s learning team and leaders from several partner organizations, teens get closer to the aquarium’s mission through exposure to jobs and responsibilities throughout the building, visits to partner organizations for informational field trips and the application of their knowledge to specific projects. Teens also gain experience with resume writing and interviewing, networking with Shedd staff, partner organizations and more.

Teens will contribute to projects related this this season’s theme: Food Security and Sustainability. These projects will leverage the expertise of several partner institutions, and include:

  • Design & Placemaking at El Paseo Community Garden in Pilsen: This project will include surveying community members to gain insight on what could improve the garden, constructing customized benches and planning an event for the installation of the benches in the garden.
  • Creating a marketing proposal for Urban Transformation Network at Metro Farms in Humboldt Park: Students will create a strategy to help generate greater awareness about the products grown, sold and distributed at this local aquaponics farm, as well as the farm’s greater mission and educational initiatives. Students will draft marketing materials, including flyers, website copy and social posts, as well as outline a potential event to showcase the products.
  • Crafting a blueprint for a new community garden to be located in their neighborhood or an approved Chicago neighborhood: This plan would include the contents of the garden, its location and how to involve the local community. Students will survey community members, create a prototype and draft a proposal letter to the local Alderperson.
  • Imagining new interpretive signage for Shedd’s outdoor green spaces with the aquarium’s horticulture team: Students will draft text and design mock-ups for signage describing a theme such as soil, Shedd history, food systems or other topics of choice. The students will consult with Shedd’s design team in addition to horticulture team members and will additionally survey Shedd guests for informal feedback on designs.

All projects and topics are designed around this season’s program theme and showcase ways to make sustainable choices and increase access to high-quality food within Chicago communities. These efforts can in turn support larger undertakings such as bolstering local biodiversity and the health of neighborhoods and wetlands. These projects also strengthen students’ confidence in their ability to contribute to long-term, strategic projects and introduce them to different working roles and settings. Shedd will use this pilot program to inform the creation of future paid work opportunities for high school-aged students.

Teen Work-Study is made possible with support from the Dover Foundation. For additional information about Shedd Aquarium’s teen programs and how to get involved, visit Shedd’s website here.

VISUALS: High resolution photos are available for download:

Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger