Enhancing Diversity in STEM Careers Through Mentored Training (2022-2023)


Despite the importance of diversity in STEM fields, underrepresented minorities represent only a small percentage of college graduates majoring in STEM. The environmental health field is particularly homogenous, an especially disturbing fact given the pervasiveness of environmental injustice and the relationship between environmental issues and health in topics such as air pollutants and cancer rates.

Duke-supported programs are partnering with Durham Public Schools (DPS) to provide opportunities that can help build the pipeline of tomorrow’s scholars and leaders. For example, the Environmental Summer Science Program (ESSP) helps students learn about environmental studies through fieldwork; bioSTEMs is a student organization providing year-long environmental science, health and college advising enrichment; and HackBio is a team-based “hackathon” to solve community-based problems. Surveys of participants show a positive impact on career readiness, yet the programs are limited by their short duration. 

Project Description

This project team will address these challenges by providing educational modules and mentorship focused on the intersection of environmental science and health. The team will create a comprehensive Scholars in Health and Environmental Disciplines (SHED) program to foster long-term mentor relationships and enhance environmental health involvement in DPS high schoolers.

Team members will implement a comprehensive school-year-long curriculum for high schoolers focused on environmental science and health that also includes college and career guidance. They will pilot and implement the program in Durham Public Schools, and evaluate the program by surveying students and educators. Their approach will be to provide experiences and resources to prepare students for successful matriculation in college, performing undergraduate research and having future careers in STEM fields. 

High school students and their Duke mentors will meet for four weekend sessions each semester of the school year. These sessions will include a kickoff event, team building activities and skill-building events, including field trips and lab-based activities. Duke mentors will also host biweekly events to discuss college advising, career and academic skills, and topics of special interest to the group. 

The curriculum will center on investigating the interplay of environmental science and health. Examples of topics include the ways in which environmental pollutants cause cancer; pollutants in seafood; and how biodiversity benefits health. Using this knowledge, as well as data collected during the field experiences, the team will guide DPS students to create a final project and presentation identifying an environmental health problem and a potential solution.

Surveys and interviews of team members, volunteers and high school student participants will be conducted before the program begins, at several checkpoints through the school year and after the conclusion of the program. 

Team members will use the results to adapt curriculum design and improve the program, then coordinate with other mentoring organizations to share their experience.

Anticipated Outputs

Year-long Durham Public Schools program; peer-reviewed article; high school student science projects; website with online toolkit

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will be comprised of 2 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students with a wide array of interests as well as different socioeconomic statuses and racial backgrounds.

Students will work on specific tasks in three subteams: education, mentorship, research. The full team will meet weekly, and students will also meet with their subteams weekly headed by a project manager. 

Team members will learn to design an engaging high school level curriculum centered in One Health principles, a novel field with growing importance. The education subteam members will learn about issues of environmental health from curriculum design preparation and field experiences. Team members focused on mentorship will build relationships between high school students, local educators, Duke students and Duke faculty. Furthermore, team members will undergo extensive case study-focused mentoring training.

Team members will gain skills in community-based research through surveys and focus groups throughout the project. The research subteam members will conduct statistical analysis to reach applicable, data-backed conclusions to make best practice suggestions for similar programs that include science communication and peer mentoring. They will also develop scientific writing skills by preparing their findings for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

In the optional summer components, 2 undergraduates can work for 20 hours for one week; 1 graduate student can work 8 hours for one week. Students also have the option to participate as counselors in the Environmental Summer Science Program (an additional 2 weeks of commitment) to gain environmental science mentoring experience.

Rachel Karasik, Laura Martinez and Alex Risius will serve as the project managers.


Summer 2022 – Summer 2023

  • Summer 2022 (optional): Seek IRB exemption to administer quantitative surveys; increase Durham high school affiliations; recruit mentors and mentees for Fall programming; possible participation as counselor in the Environmental Summer Science Program
  • Fall 2022: Develop and implement environmental, health, and mentoring curriculum and activities; develop pre-and post-program surveys; complete Duke's working with minors training
  • Spring 2023: Continue development and implementation of curriculum and mentoring; collect survey data to analyze program efficacy
  • Summer 2023 (optional): Apply developed activities to the Environmental Summer Science Program


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available


Image: Githens Middle School eighth graders listen to a robot’s heartbeat in the Duke Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center at the Trent Semans Center during Duke-Durham School Days, by Jared Lazarus

Young students exploring health and science.

Team Leaders

  • Nicolette Cagle, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Jason Somarelli, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology

/graduate Team Members

  • Rachel Karasik, Environment-MS
  • Laura Martinez, Environment-MS
  • Alex Risius, Environment-MS

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Octavia Crompton, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham Public Schools
  • North Carolina School of Science and Math
  • Environmental Science Summer Program
  • Boost (Building Opportunities and Overtures in Science and Technology)