A group of 14 science-loving Scotlandville Magnet High School students are getting the chance to hone their skills and shape their minds.
They are afforded opportunities to conduct scientific research in state-of-the-art labs at the University, present their studies to professionals and compete in a national science conference in Washington, D.C.
The activities are all a part of this year’s itinerary for the University Chapter of EnvironMentors.
This group started within the School of the Coast and Environment in 2010 with the help of Dean Chris D’Elia. The national and local chapter’s platform is to act as a college access program that pairs science mentoring and college preparation to help underrepresented youth, which are classified as such by race, gender or income, said Valerie Derouen, biological sciences and education graduate student and EnvironMentor coordinator.
The high schoolers in the program are individually paired with two University graduate students or staff members to act as mentors to work on a science-based project from the fall to the spring, when they will present the final product to a panel of judges in April.
From there, three students are chosen to embark on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. in May to present their projects in the EnvironMentors National Science Fair, where winners are awarded college scholarships.
Currently, the University chapter is in the beginning phases of this year’s program, and students are trying to decide what the subject of their projects will be.
“Right now, we are really working on creating a bond between the mentors and the students,” Derouen said. “Last week was the first week they were told who they were paired with, so we want to give them the opportunity to actually spend some time and get to know their mentors outside of the project time.”
Mentors will meet with students every Monday until next year to work on their respective projects. When meeting days aren’t filled with learning the scientific method or crafting ideas, the students get a sense of environmental awareness from activities like canoeing, said Stacy Peterson, oceanography and coastal sciences graduate student and EnvironMentor coordinator.
The two EnvironMentor project coordinators oversee the logistics of the chapter and worked to extend mentor participation across the University, and this year they range from the College of Science to the College of Agriculture.
Marshall Kormanec, oceanography and coastal sciences graduate student and mentor, is working with his student Tyler Morris for the second time. Morris and Kormanec teamed up last year, and this year’s project is aimed at sustainability.
The mentors create a lasting relationship with students as they enter college and work toward graduation, a goal of the program, Peterson said.
Kormanec has managed to do just that and keeps a working relationship with a past student he mentored, Brodrick Vincent, biology sophomore and EnvironMentor participant.
Vincent and Kormanec still correspond regarding school and advice about classes, practices that Kormanec called “so rewarding.”
Kormanec joined EnvironMentors out of a need to give back to youth he can identify with, he said.
“I had a tough time affording college, and I had help and wanted to give that back,” he said.
Being a participant in the program helped ensure a smooth transition to the University, Vincent said, and having his mentors available on campus was an added bonus.
“I can go to [Kormanec] anytime,” Vincent said. “I was able to go to him and he helped me with different assignments. Anything with school, or personal, he was there to help.”
Derouen said the University chapter is one of the more successful chapters around the country, and the funding and support they receive from sponsors each year enables them to make it better each year. The chapter was awarded the National EnvironMentors 2013 Chapter of the Year Award, an achievement both coordinators are proud of and aim to repeat.