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Minority Youth Institute Trains Tommorw's Environmental Leaders

Gateway National Recreation Area

National Park News

On your average weekday morning in June, most teens are enjoying their summer break by sleeping in. But for 20 of New York City’s brightest budding environmental scientists, summer is all about gaining field experience and, hopefully, career opportunities.

The National Hispanic Environmental Council (NHEC) held its seventh annual New York City Minority Youth Environmental Training Institute from June 27th to July 3rd at several park and refuge locations in the New York City area, including Gateway National Recreation Area on Staten Island, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Fire Island National Seashore on Long Island and the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban Field Station in Fort Totten, Queens.

The NHEC, which uses both classrooms and outdoor settings, says that the institute is “designed to help build the environmental leaders and professionals of tomorrow by educating, engaging, and inspiring youth, especially Latinos and other minorities, on a range of environmental and natural resource issues.”

The institute targets upper class high school students and college freshmen ages 16 to 18 and provides them with information on various college and career opportunities in environmental fields. It also endeavors to assist students in their pursuit of such careers in the future, especially with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which sponsor the Institute.

“These students are high academic achievers with solid backgrounds in environmental studies and experience,” said NHEC President Roger Rivera of the competitively selected students immersed in a lecture on aquatic ecosystems.

“Some have volunteered or had jobs at zoos; some are involved in activities through their schools, like a recycling club. One student here will be going to Costa Rica in July to study turtles... These are students committed to pursuing an environmental major and career.”

Students conduct a variety of field studies in their week with the Institute, including air, water and soil testing, biological assessments, vegetation inventories and bird monitoring.

“We get them in the water and assess the conditions of the water system for recreational use or drinking quality,” said instructor Carlos Bustos, a source water protection specialist for the New Mexico Rural Water Association and freelance hydrologist.

“At the end of the week, the students are split into groups and do a final comparative analysis of the different sites we visit. They get really into it. These kids are in environmental science groups or associations so their interest in what we go out and do already exists.”

In addition, students partake in offshore explorations of Jamaica Bay, spend an evening camping overnight at Fire Island and board a chartered boat for a half day trip investigating marine biology issues in the Hudson and East Rivers, as well as New York Harbor.

“This program gives these students the experience of being out in the field, which can possibly lead to internships or even jobs. It’s a great opportunity.”

Institute instructors like Bustos, as well as members of the USFS and NRCS, are part of the NHEC’s team of institute role models, who represent a variety of natural resources professionals in fields such as forestry, hydrology and wildlife biology. The role models spend the week engaging and educating students, as well as answering questions about their line of work and about how students can get involved in it one day, too.

This combination of field studies and interaction with working experts facilitates a highly informative and inspiring experience for young people like 16-year-old Andrea Diaz of Brooklyn, who has long seen environmental science in her future.

“I’ve always been interested in the environment and wanted to learn more about it,” she said. “I’m thinking about a career in journalism so I can teach others about the environment, too.”

Seventeen-year-old Paul Cruz of Queens echoed this sentiment.

“I’m really interested in animals and the environment. It’s definitely my passion,” Cruz said. “I’d like to pursue a career involving the environment, maybe law enforcement of some sort. [The Institute] is a good chance to get experience and learn about job options.”

For some, spending additional time in a classroom is an unappealing way to spend the summer. But for driven students like Diaz and Cruz, the NHEC Minority Youth Environmental Training Institute is a week-long, exciting experience with an impact that lasts a lifetime.

The NHEC, a national, non-profit membership-based organization, is the only national Latino environmental and natural resources organization in the country. It runs similar minority youth environmental training institute programs in Los Angeles, Ca. and Glorieta, N.M.

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