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New LSU EnvironMentors Chapter Mentors Students in Science and College Preparation

The LSU School of the Coast and Environment, or SC&E, and the College of Education have partnered to bring EnvironMentors, a national college access initiative that prepares at-risk high school juniors and seniors for college degree programs in environmental and related science fields, to LSU. This past year, LSU was one of only three universities selected to become an EnvironMentors university chapter.

Through the partnership, the SC&E team turned to the College of Education to identify a high school partner. Suzan Gaston, director of at-risk youth initiatives, proposed Scotlandville Magnet High School, a school which participates in LSU's Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP.  LSU GEAR UP, funded by a grant from the U. S. Department of Education, is a partnership of the college, local school systems and community organizations, which addresses middle and high school retention and graduation rates to foster success in postsecondary education and careers.

EnvironMentors is a national college access initiative that prepares at-risk high school juniors and seniors for college degree programs in environmental and related science fields.Susan Welsh/LSU School of the Coast and Environment

"I definitely feel that EnvironMentors is having a positive impact on the student participants," said Pamela Francis, science department chairperson and EnvironMentors sponsor at Scotlandville Magnet High School. "The students are acquiring knowledge that they can utilize throughout the classes they are currently taking and beyond."

Melissa Monk, a graduate fellow in SC&E, led the team which earned an initial grant of approximately $5,000 from the National Council for Science and the Environment and has since received $10,000 from Louisiana Sea Grant. Albemarle and Louisiana Sea Grant have given assurance of future support. SC&E graduate students Melissa Baustian, Lauren Land and Monk are chapter coordinators, led by research associate and chapter director Susan Welsh. LSU alumni-owned Houston Energy LP has recently donated $10,000 through a gift to the LSU Foundation to support a graduate student assistantship to the EnvironMentors coordinator.

EnvironMentors students worked on individual science fair projects during the winter, and they will present them at a local science fair this spring at Scotlandville Magnet High School. The students with the three highest scores will travel to Washington, D.C., to present their projects at the national EnvironMentors science fair in May.

Francis reports improved completion and execution of the students' schoolwork, including their high school science fair presentations, since the establishment of the program.

"These students are able to articulate what they did, how they did it and what their results meant," said Francis. "They have a greater appreciation for science." 

The EnvironMentors students learn about science and the environment through lessons and workshops, conducting a group water quality monitoring experiment, spending time with their mentors, and visiting labs and museums on the LSU campus. They will also take educational field trips to the Audubon Aquarium, Audubon Insectarium, Bluebonnet Swamp and Nature Center, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

LSU GEAR UP transports participants from Scotlandville to campus and back to each student's home. This is helping EnvironMentors make headway towards its goal of 100% retention.

"It would be so easy to lose a student if we didn't have transportation," said Monk.

EnvironMentors students learn about science and the environment through lessons and workshops, conducting a group water quality monitoring experiment, spending time with their mentors, and visiting labs and museums on the LSU campus.Susan Welsh/LSU School of the Coast and Environment

Two-on-one mentoring relationships with LSU graduate students and faculty also encourage attendance.

"EnvironMentors presents LSU GEAR UP students with an amazing opportunity to come to a college campus and do scientific work," said Gaston.  "The high school students love to be around college students and benefit from the interest the mentors take in them as a person." 

The opportunity impacts the LSU mentors as well. Matthew Kupchik, an SC&E graduate student, mentors a student named Alex.

"Personally, I benefit from the interaction and Alex's inquisitive nature," said Kupchik.  "Working with her has helped me to think about my own research from a different angle. Further, I enjoy the ability to help someone who is genuinely interested in science and the environment and seeing Alex grow through the process."

More students, faculty and departments are joining in to support the success of the LSU EnvironMentors Chapter.  As research indicates potential benefits of the use of social networking in education, an exclusive Facebook page for LSU EnvironMentors students and mentors was designed by Pamela Pollara and Jie Zhou, graduate students in College of Education Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Practice, under the direction of Yiping Lou, associate professor in educational technology. The page contained discussion forums regarding science; careers, internships and scholarships; and research projects. The page is being enhanced to include the ability to upload data and documents for the purpose of viewing, sharing and archiving. The new web application will encourage the use of technology, provide a safeguard from losing project elements and facilitate communication between students and mentors.

Claire Biggs, a student in Richard Nelson's service-learning class in the Manship School of Mass Communication, helped expand awareness of EnvironMentors using skills learned in her classes.

"LSU works every day in community engagement and expanding learning opportunities," said the senior in public relations. "I knew this was a program that will make a difference and wanted to take part in its success."

"I think that anytime you can help someone to go beyond their current experience and open up new avenues for discovery, you engender to them a sense of possibility," said Kupchik.