August 10, 2009
By Anh Ha
The EnvironMentors program pairs college student mentors with high school students from underrepresented backgrounds who seek degrees in the environmental and related science fields.
Starting as a community program in Washington, D.C., in 1992, EnvironMentors joined the National Council for Science and the Environment, or NCSE, in 2006 to help expand the program by creating new chapters across the country.
The program pairs high school students with a college mentors that will work with them in developing an environmental science research project during the academic year. The program is supported by science teachers, government agencies, community organizations, foundations, and businesses.
The Fort Collins region is led by Director Brett Bruyere, a professor in the Warner College of Natural Resources.
“We just finished our second year, and I think we made a lot of positive improvements based on our experiences and learning from the inaugural year. This includes creating a more structured support environment for our mentors and trying out a few new recruiting tactics at our partner high school, Centennial High School,” says Bruyere.
Sean Hill, a graduate student in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, is the chapter coordinator for CSU. He also recruits the high school students from a variety of high schools.
“I decided to get involved with EnvironMentors because of my desire to help rebuild the connection between people in our society and the natural systems that support us. As a former teacher, I also get excited about science education,” says Hill.
Around 10-12 undergraduates participate in the program each year, however, the number depends greatly on the number of high school students that enroll in the program. Mentors are required to attend weekly group and class meetings with each other and the high school students and give updates and feedback about their high school student’s progress every week.
“The population we're working with at the high school is challenging; these kids have a lot of other demands and issues they try to balance with their academic responsibilities, and with varying levels of success. We'd like to see our completion rate continue to improve, though understand that challenge is shared by many youth development programs that target less-privileged and higher risk populations,” says Bruyere.
The high school participants displayed their science projects during the Sustainable Student Fair last spring and allowed the CSU community to experience what they’ve learned.
In May, four students traveled to Washington, D.C. on an all-expenses paid trip to compete with students from eight different regions across the nation for a chance at winning scholarships. Three CSU participants walked away with scholarships.
Some of the programs’ participants show a definite interest in environmental research and have potential to make it their future path.
(Photo at right: Local high school students Brittany Little, Kelli Hayes, and Joshua Allred received scholarships at a competition in D.C. for their research project.)
Bruyere explains that the benefits the high school students receive from the EnvironMentors program comes in a few layers. Students get first-hand experience on what is scientific research and how to conduct it. They also learn to think critically and become better consumers of science.
“While the context of our program is clearly academic, inevitably that supportive relationship extends into other realms as our mentors and the students meet at a coffee house to discuss their project or drive together for an hour as they go to a site to collect data. For some of the students, our mentors are among few adults in their lives that provide a supportive and encouraging role,” says Bruyere.
Hill believes that the mentoring relationship is a positive way for undergraduates to develop a relationship with their local community. It will also provide them with an opportunity to be a role model and a leader.
“This sense of responsibility can be life changing,” says Hill.
Contact: Brett Bruyere
Phone: (970) 491-1360