Online classes may be a bit different than traditional school settings, but they have brought about a plethora of opportunities This is certainly the case for Jonah Lovejoy, a senior at Belfast Area High School. His love of molecular engineering was fostered by an online summer class he took from the University of Chicago.

The class, offered through the university’s Emerging Rural Leaders program for high-achieving students from rural schools, was titled Pathways in Molecular Engineering. Jonah said he learned about engineering with dye-sensitized solar cells, low-cost solar cells that can be used to harness the energy of the sun.“Throughout the whole (class), we were measuring efficiency,” Jonah said, “and we were experimenting with different ways we can modify it on a molecular level.”

The course made the most of the virtual medium, offering seminars, workshops and plenty of hands-on opportunities. “I really enjoyed working with all the other students,” Jonah said. “It was really awesome to have an environment where everybody wanted to learn just as much as I did.”

Even though the class was online, he was able to make some friends while earning college credits. There were also scholarship opportunities and information about college admissions to help seniors navigate the process.

Jonah said it was the BAHS science department that sparked his interest in engineering. “The teachers here at Belfast are incredible,” he said, and they’ve been really supportive about sharing opportunities with him and his classmates.

Upon completing the class, Jonah received a travel voucher. He toured UChicago at no cost to him and thought the campus was “really nice.” He especially loved the Gothic architecture. Despite having not yet completed the application process, he considers the college to be on his radar. His favorite spot was a small duck pond on the campus for students (and ducks) to hang out, and there were several food trucks lined up on one street.

Jonah Lovejoy poses in front of the archway at UChicago, where he visited after taking an online course through the school this summer. Courtesy of Jonah Lovejoy

BAHS Principal Jeff Lovejoy, Jonah’s father, says this is just one of many opportunities available to students at the school. He is not aware of any other student who has taken a class through UChicago, but said dozens take early college classes at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast. Students can also take online classes through the University of Maine and receive three credit. There are also AP classes, which require passing a rigorous exam to gain college credit.

“We provide access and figure out the scheduling,” Lovejoy said, and this allows students to have the freedom to choose the college course that best fits their post-secondary plans. Dual enrollment classes – which are physical, in-class courses – are much harder to offer at school. Currently, he is working on making a UMaine chemistry class available, and BAHS already offers a UMaine history class. He also admires the work of his AP U.S. history teacher, Chip Lagerbom, who has written several articles and columns for history websites and has an upcoming speech at the Belfast Rotary Club.

“Online isn’t for everybody, but it opens access and works for a lot of kids,” Lovejoy said. He added that the online learning programs during the pandemic have encouraged kids to take advantage of the opportunities they are given.