Newswise — A group of New York City high school students, most with little experience outside their low-income neighborhoods and a narrow view of the natural world, will get a new look at nature this month when they spend a week doing hands-on environmental science 250 miles from home in Central New York.

The hope is to expose a new generation of students to academic and career possibilities they never knew existed.

“We want our students to be good stewards of the environment, to take care of the world. The most effective way to do that is to have them interact with the natural world and fall in love with it,” said Emil Kim, senior program manager for the non-profit organization Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Scholars, which is sending the students to the program at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York.

“Many of our students are the children of immigrants, some are from single-parent or low-income homes. 85% of our Scholars will be first-generation college students,” Kim said. “One thing they lack is that exposure to environmental science and nature.”

Such a lack of exposure is not uncommon among urban teenagers, Kim said. Many of the students have never been to Central Park. One young participant left her home borough of the Bronx for the first time when she traveled to Brooklyn for an SEO program. He described them as living in a “three-block bubble,” consisting of the neighborhoods around their homes, their schools and SEO programs.

Traveling to ESF for a week of hands-on learning Aug. 9 to 14, he said, will expose them to more than just the natural world. They will also learn about the many aspects of science and myriad ways to pursue a career in the field.

The 20 students will live on the ESF campus for a week. The students will work with the ESF SCIENCE (Summer Camps Investigating Ecology in Neighborhood and City Environments) program, which offers a series of weeklong camps through the summer.

“We’ll be going out to different field locations, and giving them hands-on experience in some of the academic fields ESF offers, such as environmental engineering, fisheries science, ecology, dendrology and GIS mapping,” said Brandon Murphy, ESF’s training program coordinator. “I think a lot of these will be completely new experiences for the scholars.”

SEO Scholars is a free eight-year academic program that supports low-income public school students through their high school and college years. The program has a 95 percent college graduation rate. ESF Trustee Leslie Talbot, who has been involved with the SEO Scholars, helped foster the relationship between the college and program.

One of the highlights of the camp will be a trip to nearby Onondaga Lake, a once-degraded lake that has been the subject of cleanup and restoration efforts. “They’ll be documenting the fish species in the lake and their abundance,” said Murphy. They’ll also be doing a couple of engineering projects related to water such as water filtering and a stream modeling project while they’re out on the lake.

It won’t all be work though. “We’ll be teaching them how to fish while we’re out there,” he said, “so they’ll experience some of the recreational side of things. The love of the environment is what brings a lot of students to ESF in the first place.”

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