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Majoring in saving the planet

Partnership with EPA draws new generation of students into the field.
Mon Jun 4, 2018

June 4, 2018

By Tim Carroll

Melissa Payan has known she wanted to save the planet since grade school. Now an EPA employee and 2006 MSU Denver environmental-science graduate, she returned to campus June 4 to speak at a partnership-signing ceremony during which her alma mater became the first university in the Rocky Mountain Region to ink a formal educational partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Partnerships such as the one we are here for today help enhance the education and recruitment of diverse students for science, technology, engineering and math careers,” said Payan, who is one of several Metropolitan State University of Denver alumni working at the EPA.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed before a crowd of Colorado K-12 teachers on campus to learn hands-on teaching techniques through MSU Denver’s MULTI STEM Summer Institute, which is partially funded by the EPA. The document cements a long-standing relationship between the EPA’s regional office and the University.

Hsiu-Ping Liu helps a Summer Science Institute camp student.

The relationship between the institutions goes back at least to the 1980s, according to MSU Denver records. Since 1987, 96 MSU Denver students have interned with the EPA, and MSU Denver students have presented STEM research projects at local EPA offices.

The MOU also recognizes the role MSU Denver plays in educating underserved students in STEM subjects as well as Colorado teachers, particularly through the University’s Center for Advanced STEM Education.

“MSU Denver is nurturing STEM education from the ground up by working with educators in Colorado’s communities and developing opportunities for the diverse set of students enrolled in the University’s programs,” said EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Deb Thomas. “EPA is proud and excited to be part of the University’s efforts to develop highly trained professionals to meet needs in the environmental sciences. We need to continue to find ways to connect with students and educators, cultivate interest in STEM careers, and serve and develop the next generation of science leaders.”

MSU Denver student researchers present their findings to Environmental Protection Agency staff as part of a student scientist panel.

Representative of the type of activities that would fall under MSU Denver’s Classroom to Career (C2) Hub initiative, the MOU is designed to promote increased collaboration between the University and the EPA to support education in STEM, environmental science and other disciplines through career exposure, networking opportunities, internships, MSU Denver’s summer science programs and joint research. The EPA’s other educational MOU is with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

“This is another pipeline for our students,” said Hsiu-Ping Liu, director of the Center for Advanced STEM Education, who helped develop the MOU. “We really try to not just help our students graduate; we also want them to be well-prepared for graduate school and jobs in STEM fields. Research internships are the best way for students to learn content knowledge, critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork. Research helps teach our students these qualities. That’s why I’m excited.”