Enhancing Diversity in STEM Careers Through Mentored Training (2023-2024)


Despite the importance of diversity in STEM fields, underrepresented minorities make up 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 like air pollutants and cancer rates. 

Durham is not immune to these inequalities; it is difficult for systemically excluded students to access higher education and pursue STEM degrees. Building on the work of a previous team, this project will strive to address these challenges by providing interested high school students with long-term career mentorship, educational modules focused on the intersections of environmental science and health, and field experiences around Durham and North Carolina.

Project Description

The overall goal of this project is to enhance STEM career readiness for high school, specifically students from groups who have been systematically prevented from pursuing STEM careers. To accomplish this goal, the team will implement and evaluate a comprehensive year-long curriculum focused on the intersection of environmental science and health, which includes college- and career-readiness training and mentorship. Team members will serve as mentors for the Health and Environmental Scholars Program @Duke (HESP), meeting with Durham Public School (DPS) high school students during weekly in-person sessions throughout the school year. The curriculum, developed by team members, will investigate the interplay of environmental science and health according to Next Generation Science Standards. These sessions will be hands-on and interactive, featuring field trips to the Duke Campus Farm, Duke Forest, North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, and the Duke Marine Lab, where students will have the opportunity to learn from experts, including environmental sciences faculty, and gain experiences not typically offered in high schools. 

Over the course of the year-long program, sessions will provide college application advising and discuss career and academic skills. The team will guide students through a final research project, where they can gain skills and experience in scientific research, data analysis, and science communication.

For program evaluation, the team will use a standardized environmental education survey. Surveys and interviews of team members, educators, volunteers and high school student participants will be conducted before the program begins and after the conclusion of the program. Results will be used to adapt curriculum design and improve the program. Guided by the survey analysis, the team will ultimately collaborate with other mentoring organizations to expand this program statewide and nationally.

Apart from curriculum design and mentorship, undergraduate student team members will drive the program forward by creating and updating outreach materials (such as videos, a website, and graphics), developing relationships with local teachers, and seeking program funding and grants. Each undergraduate student will develop a deep, holistic view of how the program fits within the larger context of the local community as well as how to continue improving the program’s curriculum and organizational structure to serve its local community members. 

Anticipated Outputs

Curriculum development and execution of a year-long mentoring and education program focused on the intersection of environmental science and health; up-to-date resources for maintaining future HESP programs; peer-reviewed article about program and its evaluation; website with online toolkit to launch similar programs in other schools

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will include 2 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students. These students should be eager to mentor high school students, and we encourage applicants who come from diverse academic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds to apply. Applicants can come from a variety of academic disciplines.

Students should be ready to create and sustain meaningful long-term relationships with high school students. HESP’s goal extends beyond providing college and career readiness and teaching environmental science to creating a safe space for students that are systemically excluded from STEM opportunities in which students can explore their interests in STEM, connect with Duke students and faculty, and gain research experience so they are ready to pursue STEM majors in college.

A cross-disciplinary team of faculty and staff will work closely with graduate research assistants to coordinate undergraduate team members who develop and lead HESP. Everyone will meet weekly as a team, and students will also meet with the graduate research assistants on a weekly basis. 

Graduate research assistants will lead activities and manage undergraduate work. Faculty will provide higher-level guidance and feedback on leadership and mentoring in one-on-one meetings with graduate students. Undergraduates will serve as mentors for the high school students. This tiered mentoring approach allows every training level to act as both mentor and mentee.

All team members will gain experience with curriculum design, lesson planning, teaching, and mentorship. Their engagement with community-based research will allow them to make best practice suggestions for similar STEM mentoring programs across the state and country. Team members will gain experience in leadership and implementation of community programs, including project management and grant writing, and they will have the opportunity to lead the program in new directions. The results of team members’ research will be published in a peer-reviewed article.


Summer 2023 – Summer 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Review effectiveness of programming; update quantitative surveys; increase Durham high school affiliations; recruit mentees and mentors for fall programming; begin lesson planning
  • Fall 2023: Complete training to work as mentors; recruit and admit high school students; administer pre-program surveys; implement curriculum and activities
  • Spring 2024: Continue implementation of curriculum and mentoring; collect survey data to analyze program efficacy; launch website for teacher toolkits and curriculum
  • Summer 2024 (optional): Write manuscript on survey data and teacher toolkit


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

See earlier related team, Enhancing Diversity in STEM Careers Through Mentored Training (2022-2023).


Photo and text courtesy of the 2022-2023 Enhancing Diversity in STEM Careers Through Mentored Training team.

Research team.

Team Leaders

  • Nicolette Cagle, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Caroline Cameron, Nicholas School of the Environment–Master of Environmental Management Student
  • Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Laura Martinez, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Emma Schmaltz, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Alma Solis, Evolutionary Anthropology–Ph.D. Student
  • Jason Somarelli, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology
  • Erin Voigt, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Zoe Ali, Marine Sci & Conservation (BS)
  • Elizabeth Glazer
  • Ariane Lemaire
  • Nicholas Nease
  • Chibuike Okafor
  • Kasey Park, Economics (BS)
  • Kaitlyn Yan
  • Ruo Ye

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham Public Schools
  • North Carolina School of Science and Math