Call for EnvironMentors!

Citizen Science report from Science Cheerleader reporter Dr. John Ohab.
Are you interested in giving back to the community and advancing environmental science education? Become an EnvironMentor!

EnvironMentors is a mentoring program that helps prepare high school and college students for careers in environmental and related fields. Together, students and mentors develop environmentally-based science projects comprised of hands-on experiments and a scientific research paper. The year-long program culminates with a poster presentation at the annual EnvironMentors Science Fair, during which students are eligible to compete for college scholarships.

Important point: expertise in environmental science or previous mentoring experience is NOT a requirement for participation; hence, why I was able to participate in last year’s Washington, D.C. EnvironMentors program (I had no expertise and limited mentoring experience).

My student, Lalaram, was particularly interested in how microwave radiation impacts living organisms, specifically plant growth. We conducted background research and found that this very topic was the focus of NASA researcher, Dr. JW Skiles, who is investigating the long-term effects of continuous microwave energy illumination of the biosphere. That was pretty much all we needed to design a year-long research project that asked: “Do Microwaves Affect Plants?”

Our experimental design was simple, yet thorough: three groups (water, soil, and wheatgrass seeds) received increasing amounts of microwave exposure (control, 15s, 30s, 1min, 2min, and 4min). In the water condition, microwave-treated water was administered to our wheatgrass on each watering day. In the soil and seed conditions, the soil and wheat grass seeds were microwaved once at their respective exposure time and given regular control water thereafter. We had three measures: 1) the day that sprouts first emerged from the soil, 2) the length of each blade of wheatgrass over time, and 3) the percentage of seeds that sprouted. In other words, we got to microwave the living crap out wheatgrass seeds and “see what happened”.

It was a challenging and rewarding year for both Lalaram and me. He demonstrated persistence, fought through a number of technical challenges, and ultimately produced a final paper and presentation worthy of a college student. As I watched Lalaram grow, I learned a great deal about what it takes to motivate someone, to inspire them to contribute their strengths, and to pursue endeavors that seem at the time beyond their abilities. It was an enormously satisfying experience from start to finish.

If you’re interested in participating as a mentor or a student, I encourage you to check out the EnvironMentors homepage and the seven university chapters, which include Alabama State, Colorado State, NC State, Colleges of Fenway, UC Davis, University of Nebraska and Arkansas State.

Project Snapshot:
Topics: environmental science, mentoring
Location: multiple locations throughout country
Duration: academic calendar
Cost: free or low cost
Gear: computer, scientific supplies
Level of Difficulty: moderate-difficult

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