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


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


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

Women looking at computers.

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
  • Rachel Karasik, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
  • Jason Somarelli, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology

/graduate Team Members

  • Tasneem Ahsanullah, Master of Environmental Management
  • Laura Martinez, Environment-MS
  • Alex Risius, Environment-MS
  • Alma Solis, Evolutionary Anthropology-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Jerry Fu, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Madison Griffin, Biology (BS)
  • Madena Mustafa, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Lydia Sellers, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Emma Shuppert, Marine Sci & Conservation (BS)
  • Katie Tan, Economics (BS)
  • Larry Zheng, Biology (BS)

/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)