Enhancing Diversity in STEM Careers Through Mentored Training (2024-2025)


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 environmental toxins.

Durham is not immune to these inequalities; it is difficult for systemically excluded students to access higher education and pursue STEM degrees. Mentorship has been found to provide better student outcomes by increasing scientific identity as well as the likelihood of students pursuing higher education. However, more work is needed to develop and evaluate curricula that can enhance STEM career readiness for high school, specifically for students from groups who have been systematically prevented from pursuing STEM careers.

Project Description

Building on the work of a previous team, this project seeks to diversify STEM fields by providing educational modules and mentorship for high school students and providing teachers with training on how to use our curriculum in their own classrooms. To accomplish this goal, the team will implement and evaluate a year-long high school 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 12 in-person sessions throughout the school year. Over the course of the year-long program, sessions will provide college application advising, guest speaker panels and professional development sessions highlighting environmental and health professionals from diverse backgrounds. The program also covers how environmental pollutants cause cancer, how pollutants can be present in seafood and how biodiversity benefits human health. 

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. This will allow students to 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. All project team members must therefore be ready to create and sustain meaningful, long-term relationships with high school students.

To evaluate the program, team members 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.

Anticipated Outputs

Execution and evaluation of a year-long mentoring and education program focused on the intersection of environmental science and health; peer-reviewed article; website with online toolkit to launch similar programs in other schools; end of semester Hackathon

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate students and 12 undergraduate students from diverse academic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, who are eager to mentor high school students. 

All team members will receive mentorship training and gain experience with curriculum design, lesson planning, teaching and survey design. Students’ engagement with community-based research will allow them to make best practice suggestions for similar STEM mentoring programs across the state and country. The results of team members’ research will be published in a peer-reviewed article.

The entire team will meet weekly. Undergraduate mentors will lead 40 high school students through the curriculum and will meet with their mentees outside of the planned sessions. Undergraduate students will have an additional weekly meeting to make progress on program goals and planning. 


Summer 2024 – Summer 2025

  • Summer 2024 (optional): Update quantitative surveys; increase Durham high school affiliations; recruit mentors and mentees for Fall programming; write up publication of past years' survey data
  • Fall 2024: Complete training to work as mentors; implement curriculum and activities; administer pre-event surveys
  • Spring 2025: Implement curriculum and mentoring; collect survey data to analyze program efficacy; launch website for teacher toolkits and curriculum
  • Summer 2025 (optional): Evaluate post-event surveys; write up publication of teacher toolkits


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).


Image: Health and Environment Scholars @Duke

Image from Health and Environment Scholars @Duke website https://sites.duke.edu/hesp/

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
  • Emma Schmaltz, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Jason Somarelli, School of Medicine-Medicine: Medical Oncology

/graduate Team Members

  • Caroline Cameron, Master of Environmental Management
  • Alma Solis, Evolutionary Anthropology-PHD

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Laura Martinez, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Erin Voigt, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

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