EnvironMentors recognized at competition while building STEM skills for future

Five high school students in the Penn State chapter of the EnvironMentors received awards at the 2023 EnvironMentors National Science Fair and Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Amy Liu standing beside award winning poster

July 14, 2023
by Kevin Sliman

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State chapter of the EnvironMentors had a successful showing at the 2023 EnvironMentors National Science Fair and Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Five high school students received awards, including the first-place prize, third-place prize, the Environmental Justice Award and the Public Health Award. 

EnvironMentors is a national program created by the Global Council for Science and the Environment. It connects underrepresented high school students with undergraduate students and faculty at local universities to create mentorships and expose the high school students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through environmental research. 

Natasha Miles is an associate research professor in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science and an EnvironMentors faculty mentor. Her high school student, Amy, won the Public Health Award for her project titled “Investigating particulate matter air pollution in an oil and natural gas region in New Mexico and Texas.” 

“This year I mentored two groups of students, one group working on comparing the performance of two instruments measuring methane concentrations, and one group investigating particulate matter concentrations in the Permian oil and natural gas extraction region,” Miles said. “The students learned about the scientific process, our specific research areas, coding and the presentation of results. The best is when students are excited to get a code working and see the results.” 

Miles said EnvironMentors provides the opportunity for students to be a part of a research team that gives them a chance to explore career options.  

“Research shows that hands-on experience in science is an effective tool for retention in STEM,” she said. “The EnvironMentors program complements classwork and allows for interaction with scientists.” 

Jeremy Gernand, an associate professor in the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering and an EnvironMentors faculty mentor, said the program is more than about learning. His student, David, won third place for his project titled “Correlation Between Congested Traffic and Particulate Matter Concentration.” 

“A significant change is the increase in students’ confidence,” Gernand said. “When we started, the students wanted me to tell them what to do. I told them that I wanted them to come up with an idea, but they were hesitant. By the end, they were adapting to the conditions that they had. That change — going from just wanting somebody to tell them what to do, to being able to come up with ideas and understanding what can be done — was some of the biggest growth I saw.” 

The Environmental Justice Award went to two high school students, Sarah and Ariam, who were mentored by Greg Jenkins and Rukayya Ibrahim at Penn State Harrisburg.

>> Read the full story on Penn State News