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USM Coastal Resilience Faculty Receive Environmental Justice Grant from the Gulf Research Division of The National Academies

Mon, 12/12/2022 - 09:00am | By: Ivonne Kawas

Faculty in the School of Coastal Resilience at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), including Dr. Jennifer Walker, Dr. David Holt, and Dr. Chris Foley, together with Dr. Rachel Gisewhite of the Center for STEM Education, in collaboration with the Steps Coalition and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, have received a five-year, $970,732 grant to fund the Mississippi Gulf Coast Environmental Justice (EJ) STEMM Leadership Development Program.

The grantees will partner to develop and implement an EJ STEMM Leadership Development Program at four Boys & Girls Club sites along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This community-driven science education program will train sixth through 12th graders in scientific modes of inquiry and analysis, while also encouraging them to consider historical, cultural, and political dimensions of regional public policies that may be better informed by EJ-oriented scientific inquiry.

“This partnership will allow greater outreach and connection between USM and the surrounding community along the Gulf Coast,” said Dr. Jennifer Walker, Associate Dean for Coastal Operations. “We hope to be able to encourage environmental awareness in our coastal youth while helping them to develop into future environmental leaders. Additionally, we aim to address equity and inclusion in the natural and environmental sciences to ensure that emerging leaders and practitioners in these fields are representative of the communities that we serve,” added Dr. Walker.

Learning through hands-on, citizen science activities that serve the immediate interests of black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities on the Gulf Coast, students will come to appreciate why EJ is so important to frontline BIPOC communities in the region. In the process, students will also be introduced to STEMM career tracks in Environmental Chemistry, Ecology, Geosciences, Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences, Health Professions, Social Sciences, and Climate Policy, any of which they might pursue in order to cultivate more climate and environmentally resilient communities in the region.

“Now, and in the future, we have big questions that need to be answered about how humans live and interact in a changing environment,” said Dr. Walker. “Our goal is to inspire our youth and provide them with the tools to become some of the leaders that can answer these questions for future generations.”

The Steps Coalition was formed in 2006 following hurricane Katrina to advocate for frontline, BIPOC and poor communities in the recovery process, and over the years has evolved into a community development and advocacy organization. Steps’ core priorities are Climate & Environmental Justice, Community Development and Human Rights and it is currently spearheading coastal initiatives in affordable housing, renewable energy, and civic engagement.

Since 1966, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast (BGCGC) has been a leader in youth development programming and advocacy efforts for young people from high-risk environments within Hancock and Harrison counties. BGCGC’s strategic vision is to assist Gulf Coast youth to live out their greatest dreams through the development of skills and competencies and keep 100% of Club members on track to graduate from high school with expectations to complete some kind of post-secondary education.

The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis.

About The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.