Program at GSU Connects High School Students, Teachers With Hands-On STEM Experiences

Friday, July 7th, 2023

Walks along the Atlanta BeltLine and through Cascade Springs Nature Preserve and other sites across the city became hands-on learning opportunities for the high school students and teachers participating in Georgia State University’s EMPOWER Program.

Supported by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and funding from GSU’s Women’s Philanthropy Network, the four-week program is working to enhance the diversity of the environmental health research workforce by building relationships with underserved schools in the Metro Atlanta area.

“Our goal is expand the pipeline of students who are interested in college-level study in environmental health and helping to build critical thinking skills that can be used in careers within and outside of academia,” said EMPOWER program director Adrienne King, Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health’s Department of Population Health Sciences.

King noted that research experiences promote learning in STEM fields and shape a commitment to a science career. By engaging high school juniors and seniors from underrepresented groups, the EMPOWER program—which stands for Engaging Multi-Disciplinary Professional Opportunities for Women in Environmental Research—seeks to help close racial, ethnic and gender gaps in the environmental science workforce.

EMPOWER recently wrapped up its fourth year, and this summer five students and two teachers participated in the program. In addition to learning field and laboratory techniques, students conducted research projects that examined the link between neighborhood air quality and health outcomes, the effects of flavorings used in electronic nicotine delivery systems on cellular respiration in a yeast model, and how the ongoing wildfires in Canada have impacted air quality in Atlanta, among other topics. Teachers participating in the program examined ways to integrate more hands-on learning experiences into their lessons to enhance student interest and engagement while also meeting student learning objectives.

“Not only are we empowering students, but we’re also empowering teachers,” King said.

In addition to King, faculty and students involved in the EMPOWER program are:

  • Lisa Casanova, Associate Professor, Department of Population Health Sciences, GSU SPH

  • Roby Greenwald, Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health Sciences, GSU SPH

  • Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Assistant Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, Spelman College

  • Cassandra Johnson, MPH student, GSU SPH

The EMPOWER Program is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number 5R25ES030240-03. The content of this news release does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.