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USM Hosts Event Celebrating Youth Focused on Environmental Justice

Tue, 12/19/2023 - 11:34am | By: Gabriela Shinskie

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), along with the STEPS Coalition and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, hosted the Fall Semester Wrap-Up Event Dec. 14 at the Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach, recognizing youth throughout the Gulf Coast who displayed exceptional leadership skills in environmental justice while participating in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Environmental Justice STEMM Leadership Academy (EJSLA).

Fall Wrap Up Event

Dr. Jennifer Walker, associate dean of Coastal Operations in the College of Arts and Sciences, is proud USM is partnering to bring possibilities for environmental solutions and ideas through today’s youth.

“We want to reach out to younger students to let them know what kind of possibilities are out there,” Dr. Walker said. “We want to widen their perspectives, pique their interest, and foster a sense of community and understanding of their environment to grow the environmental leaders of the future,” said Walker.

USM invited those who actively participated in the fall semester program to be recognized for outstanding achievement in environmental topics. Those students received monetary rewards along with a certificate of completion. Three students from each of the four Boys & Girls Clubs participating in the Academy were recognized with special awards.

“We are identifying those students who are performing very well in the program and recognize them for their individual input into the program,” said Walker.

Fall Wrap Up Event


The program is offered after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Educators along the Gulf Coast deliver curriculum provided by USM faculty members focusing on environmental topics. The program is offered to any 6th-12th grader in the Harrison County Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast interested in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine). Students analyze environmental issues along the coast and leadership strategies on environmental justice.

The EJSLA is funded by a  Steps Coalition grant from the National Academies Science Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), and the curriculum development work is coordinated by USM faculty members Drs. Walker, David Holt, and Rachel Gisewhite. Enrollment for the spring semester will begin in January 2024.

Dr. Walker emphasized the importance of welcoming youth from all backgrounds and interests into STEMM.

Fall Wrap Up Event

“We want to foster a diversity of ideas and include more young people in these conversations to become their own advocates and participants in their own environments,” Dr. Walker explained. “We want to create the next generation of problem solvers.”

Steps Coalition

Rooted in the environmental justice movement from the very beginning, Steps Coalition was founded in September 2006 during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to advocate for frontline BIPOC communities in the disaster recovery process and continues to advocate for them today. Comprised of 20+ nonprofit organizations and community members, Steps convenes and provides space for the community to define and advocate for its priorities – to build capacity and leadership and provide a voice for the community – by facilitating communication, coordination, and collaboration among its members. Within this context, Steps’ core operational priorities are, Climate & Environmental Justice, Affordable Housing, Human Rights, Economic Justices, and Preservation of Historical Communities.

About the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast

Since 1966, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast has been a leader in youth development programming and advocacy efforts for young people from high-risk environments within Hancock and Harrison counties. Its 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 participants on track for high school graduation, and post-secondary plans.

National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine | Gulf Research Program

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.