Rockaway Waterfront Alliance’s Environmentor Internship is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: 9th, 10th, and 11th graders from high schools in the Rockaway Peninsula or adjacent city neighborhoods. Most students are from underrepresented groups in STEM
Number of participants: 12 students served in 2018; 15 students served in 2019
Location: Out of school program located at Rockaway Waterfront Alliance RISE Center, Queens, Far Rockaway; Field research settings around the Rockaway Peninsula and Jamaica Bay; Labs of New York City colleges/universities such as Brooklyn College and Hunter College.
Frequency/Duration: 8-month program includes once-weekly after-school classes from February–June, and 3 days per week of field research/lab work for 7 weeks in summer.
Eligibility Criteria: Students must be in grades 9–11 and live or go to school on the Rockaway Peninsula (or adjacent city neighborhoods). Students who have participated in the RWA Shore Corps Program as a prerequisite are given priority.
Curriculum: Environmental science curriculum with significant focus on computational thinking, field data collection, and lab work, including data analysis. Sometimes incorporates coding/computer science, such as with ImageJ, a Java-based image-processing program, and GIS mapping. Core skills taught include data collection, data analysis in a lab setting, technical lab skills, and science research.
Outcomes: 95 percent of participants are going on to college or trade schools, and more than 80 percent are studying or working in STEM-related fields.
Partnerships: Pinkerton Foundation SRMC, School partners include: Scholars’ Academy, Channel View School for Research, Far Rockaway Educational Complex/Far Rockaway High School (FRHS includes Frederick Douglass Academy VI High School, Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VI, Academy of Medical Technology and Queens High School for Information, Research, and Technology), all in Rockaway, Queens.
Cost: Free and students receive a stipend
Sources of funding: Private. Most funding comes from the Pinkerton Foundation. Other funding sources include the Simons Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, WT Grant Foundation and People’s United Community Foundation.
What makes the program stand out? Enrivonmentor is one of only a few out-of-school STEM programs in the Rockaways, and the only one with a lab component. The program begins with weekly after-school classes at RWA’s RISE Center, where students learn about data collection and the Rockaways’ natural environment. Students are then paired with professional scientists from local universities for seven-week summer internships centered on a local environmental issue. They spend 3 days per week gathering data from around the peninsula and analyzing data in a college/university lab. Students then present their findings to the community through presentations and informational posters.
What do participants need to succeed? “I think some kids get scared away by science research,” said program coordinator Julie Schroeger. RWA has struggled with recruiting, so it has adjusted its marketing and outreach language to reflect the program’s less-academic activities, like kayaking and surfing; and to emphasize that it’s also about gaining a better overall understanding of the community.
Participants also need better pay; the program pays a small stipend, but only some of the participants are selected (through a lottery system) for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which pays minimum wage. “They want jobs that are going to pay them minimum wage, so they’ll take a job at Rite Aid or CVS instead of doing this program, which would look much better on a college application. It’s just another barrier to diversity and inclusion in STEM,” said Schroeger.
What does the organization need? More funding to pay students a higher wage and to hire more staff, as well as capital dollars to purchase lab equipment and computers. “We take [participants] out and do more observational things and water-quality monitoring, but we don’t have the capacity to have a lab,” said Schroger.