Diverse Voices: NSF Grant Allows Underrepresented Students Chance to Explore Environmental Sciences

Feature Photo of Rowan College of South Jersey students researching the importance of plant life during an Environmental Science class. Photo courtesy of Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland campus

AC JosepH Media

VINELAND — Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland students – from underrepresented communities whose preferred field of study is Environmental Science – will be the beneficiaries of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Rowan University, late last year.

According to today.rowan.edu, the $684,700 grant will be utilized for its GREEN-SJ (Growing Rowan’s Environmental Education Network in South Jersey) initiative to “support students from traditionally underserved groups transferring from RCSJ-Cumberland as well as students already enrolled at the University for environmental science.”

In a fine example of the premier partnership between the two higher educational institutions, Dr. Beth Christensen, chair of Environmental Science at Rowan University, Dr. Patrick Crumrine, an associate professor in the department, and Melissa Young, professor and coordinator of Environmental Science at RCSJ-Cumberland, worked collaboratively on the grant in the hopes of bringing more diversity into this rapidly expanding field.

“Traditionally, the field of geology, environmental science [and] things of that nature have been predominantly white, and of a higher socioeconomic status,” Young, who just celebrated her 10th year at the Cumberland campus, explained. “So, with the GREEN-SJ community, we’re trying to explore the diversity in the field and give people opportunities in it.”

Young noted the value of listening to the perspectives and points of view from the underserved regarding the environment. “Low income and minority groups, both in urban and rural areas, are often faced with more environmental threats, such as pollution and environmental toxins,” she revealed.

“People have been working on environmental justice to address these problems for years, but often the most important voices – those actually experiencing the injustice – are missing at the table. One of the main purposes of our grant is to assist those students who want to have a seat at that table.”

According to Young, RCSJ-Cumberland students will receive multiple benefits by enrolling in the College’s Environmental Science program, including monetarily. They will be able to take three Environmental Science classes tuition free and get paid to do an internship and/or research at the University.

Additionally, they will obtain a financial stipend that would be used to help them travel to Rowan University, during the second semester of their sophomore year, in order to take one of those free classes.

Another positive aspect of the grant is these students will have a smoother experience transferring to Rowan University after graduating from RCSJ-Cumberland.

Young highlighted the plethora of employment opportunities for the student who pursues a career in environmental science, including working on essential “major green energy infrastructure projects such as the new wind farms…”  “It’s a fantastic area because the jobs are growing,” she said. “There’s work in environmental science and environmental policy, environmental programs, greenhouse gas management and energy efficiency.

“There [are also] a lot of opportunities on the government side of environmental regulation and management. And let’s say someone comes to RCSJ-Cumberland and decides they do not want to transfer; they can often get an entry-level consulting job with their associate degree.”

Young is excited about the future prospects for underserved students who participate in the program as well as the College’s profile. 

“You can find success if you start here at RCSJ-Cumberland,” she proclaimed. “I’ve seen my students go off and do amazing things. Hopefully, one day very soon, the Cumberland campus will be known for its Environmental Science program. We’re working on that.”

Learn how to apply to RCSJ and Rowan University’s GREEN-SJ program at Earth.Rowan.edu/GREEN-SJ.html or by contacting Melissa Young at myoung24@rcsj.edu.

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