In her first year as chapter coordinator, the program earned a number of national accolades.
At the national fair this spring, Emma Mathers, a second-year EnvironMentors participant and junior at Morgantown High School, placed second and was awarded an Excellence in Environmental Research Scholarship.
Mentored by Jessica Odenheimer, a master’s student in agronomy from Ashburn, Va., Mathers’ research project explored the purification of chemically and bacterially contaminated waters using organic filtration materials.
Morgantown High students Kasey Bolyard and Zoie McNeill also competed at the national level.
“All three of the girls scored above average at the national fair,” Artis said. “We could not have asked for better representation, especially among such strong competition.”
The WVU program was also named 2013 Chapter of the Year, an honor it shares with Louisiana State University.
Eric Miller, a graduate student in forest resources science from Chester, Va., was named Mentor of the Year. In fact, the top three mentors in the nation were from WVU with Daniel Hanks, a graduate student in wildlife and fisheries resources from Anderson, S.C., and Marianne Mannix, a graduate student in plant and soil sciences from Haymarket, Va., joining Miller among the elite.
“Mentors were nominated for the award by their mentees,” Artis explained. “None of the mentees for our top three mentors went on to nationals, so I think that speaks to the quality of the experience all of the high school students are receiving.”
Todd Petty, director of the program and professor of wildlife and fisheries resources in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, agrees with Artis’ assessment of the program and recognizes the many factors that helped it succeed.
“First, of course, is the dedication and hard work of the high school students and their graduate student mentors,” Petty said. “Second is the support from the high school teachers that we work with at MHS. Third is the dedication of the coordinators Cat Artis and Jennie Franks. Fourth is the materials and monetary support we receive from the National Center for Science and the Environment. Last is the support we receive from the WVU Environmental Research Center, the Davis College, and the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources.”
Prior to the start of this year, Artis and co-coordinator Jennie Franks, who left for Jamaica at the end of February for her service assignment as part of the WVU Peace Corps Masters International Program, set three primary goals for the program increase mentor recruitment efforts, increase the number of high school participants, and increase the diversity of the mentors’ majors.
“We started this year with 20 high school mentees, up from 15 the year before,” she said. “We certainly met our recruitment and participant goals in that respect.”
The chapter also boasted an 85 percent retention rate with 17 high school students completing the program this year. Nationally, the EnvironMentors organization requires a 60 percent retention rate.
Although the variety of mentor majors wasn’t as broad as Artis would have liked, there were participants from three WVU collegesthe Davis College, the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and professionals from Friends of Deckers Creek.
“This was definitely a great year for the program,” Artis said. “We had high hopes and expectations from the beginning, but we never expected all of this.”
The WVU EnvironMentors Program will begin in August and culminate in Washington at the national fair in late May 2014.
“We could have up to five students eligible for the $10,000 EnvironMentors Emerging Environmental Leader Scholarship next year, including Emma and Daniel Pan, who narrowly missed attending nationals this year,” Artis said. “The potential for another big year is certainly there.”
Developed by the National Council for Science and Environment, EnvironMentors is a national environment-based mentoring program that provides high school students with the opportunity to work with researchers and professionals to develop scientifically rigorous research projects. The program also promotes future studies and careers in STEM disciplines.
WVU was selected as a university chapter in May 2011.
For more information or to become involved with the program, visit http://erc.davis.wvu.edu/projects/education/environmentors.
CONTACT: Catherine Artis, Program Coordinator
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.