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LSU EnvironMentors Marks 10 Years

Ten years ago, this fall, a group of 15 Scotlandville Magnet High School students visited Louisiana State University (LSU) for the first time as part of a new program called EnvironMentors. There were only a handful of EnvironMentor chapters across the country in 2010. And some LSU graduate students proposed establishing a chapter on the Baton Rouge campus. Among the program’s original sponsors was Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG), which continues to support the chapter.

Environmentors

Each student in EnvironMentors conducts a research project over the course of the academic year and presents their findings at a poster presentation session in the spring.

EnvironMentors, founded in 1992, helps underserved high school students prepare for college in environmental and related sciences. Currently, there are ten chapters across the country.

Students from Scotlandville Magnet High School (SMHS), a predominately African American magnet school focusing on engineering, compose the LSU EnvironMentors chapter’s members. Once a week, they visit LSU and meet with faculty and graduate students who serve as mentors, learn to work in a laboratory, use a college library, visit museums and aquariums, and conduct basic research to help them earn college scholarships.

“Getting access to a college campus complete with information on how to get in is critical in getting these students to think about what they want for their futures,” said Valerie Stampley, a former EnvironMentors coordinator. She now works in the LSU College of Science, coordinating outreach and special initiatives. “EnvironMentors is a great program that provides valuable opportunities to Baton Rouge high school students. Getting experience with research – conducting and presenting, working with a mentor and learning how to think like a scientist provides life skills useful if they go into a science career or not.”

Environmentors

EnvironMentors also is fun. Above, SMHS students and mentors go canoeing.

“Everyone should invest in this program,” said Briana Coleman, who graduated from SMHS in 2019.”It changed my life and changed other black and brown kids who were in the same environment as me and lacked opportunities and advantages to grow in STEM.”

According to Coleman, now a first-generation college student pursuing a dual degree in political science and biology at LSU, it was not until she joined EnvironMentors that she found acceptance and pride in her academic capabilities. “I am thankful to Pamela Francis, who was the teacher who sparked it all by introducing me to EnvironMentors,” said Coleman. “I’m also thankful to Leslie Valentine, who was my mentor and also helped see me through the rough times. Thanks also to Brian Matherne, the EnvironMentors coordinator, and my mentor who gave me great guidance in my journey and helped in every way he could.”

For Matherne, making the LSU EnvironMentors chapter a success boils down to a few simple but not necessarily easy to answer questions. “Are we showing the students how to navigate the system after they finish the program? Most importantly, how do we create tools that will help guide them into college or do research or create a plan to help them reach their goals?” he said.

LSU’s EnvironMentors chapter has seen its successes. Each year, three students from the local chapter participate in a national EnvironMentors competition in Washington, D.C., where the students present research they conducted. Over ten years, LSU EnvironMentor students have won more than ten college scholarships at the competition. Moreover, the Chapter of the Year Award has gone to LSU in 2013 and 2018.

As EnvironMentors gears-up for the 2020-21 academic year, it faces some of the same challenges now faced by all schools. COVID-19 caused several SMHS students to drop out of the program this past spring. So, the chapter is making changes to how it operates this fall as schools operate under remote learning scenarios and in-person gatherings are limited. Still, Malinda Sutor, current LSU EnvironMentor director, hopes soon to expand the program to one or two more schools whose underrepresented students could benefit from it.

EnvironMentors is looking for new mentors who are graduate students. Those who want to help, or want more information about the program, can send Sutor an email to [email protected].