Cultivating Environmental Leadership in the Midwest

Article excerpt

Today's youth are the environmental health leaders of tomorrow. The Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC) at The University of Iowa, in conjunction with its partner, the Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development (also a component of The University of Iowa), is helping some of these future leaders understand the environment and their role in it, with the goal of inspiring the next generation of environmental health advocates.

Each summer since 1997, the two partners have joined forces to conduct the Environmental Health Sciences Institute for Rural Youth (EHSI), an intensive, full-scholarship, one-week residential experience for rising tenth-graders from small, rural Midwest communities. By giving high school students access to a wealth of environmental health information and helping them translate that information for dissemination to their own communities, the EHSI helps foster leadership qualities that will help them apply those skills to their future careers and their personal lives.

Each summer the EHSI accepts about 15 students to the program, and houses them in student residence halls on the Iowa campus. According to David Osterberg, director of the EHSI, the primary goal of the program is to inspire students to consider the environmental health sciences as a possible future career.

"We have students for a week, so we can aspire to do many things," he says. "We help develop mentoring relationships between smart high school students and our scientists, expose students to cutting-edge research, show them a full range of environmental health topics, and give them some career options. I especially like to emphasize policy so students realize there are potential solutions to problems that impact the environment and human health."

Throughout the week, the students are exposed to information on environmental health and related research through lectures, interactive lab sessions, one-on-one mentoring, and field trips. In this year's session, students attended lectures on such diverse topics as the relationship between cancer and the environment, nanotechnology in environmental health science, global climate change, and the connection between agriculture and health. …