LSU mentors Scotlandville students in science program

College mentors help high school students prepare for national competition

Wearing a white lab coat, safety goggles and heavy-duty gloves, Deontrae Taylor, 17, on a recent afternoon at LSU, used tongs to carefully remove dry ice from its container and place it into an aquarium containing water and small oyster shells.

The resulting white mist that poured over the sides of the aquarium belonged in a 1950s horror film. The only thing missing was a crazed scientist raising his hands to the air and screaming, “It’s alive!”

Soft-spoken Taylor is no mad scientist. He’s a junior at Scotlandville Magnet High School, and he was finishing his science experiment on ocean acidification effects on oyster shells as part of his yearlong work with the EnvironMentors LSU chapter.

His work soon will be judged against the work of his fellow students in the program, all of whom are vying for a chance to go to Washington, D.C., to compete against other chapters from across the country. The competition is part of the EnvironMentors program organized by the National Council for Science and the Environment.

The program connects high school students with science mentors to work on a yearlong science project. The program provides students a chance to learn about environmental science, go on field trips and find out about careers in science. This is the fourth year the program has run at LSU in partnership with Scotlandville Magnet High School.

Every April, program coordinators visit the school to explain the program to prospective students, said Stacy Peterson, co-coordinator of the LSU chapter.

“It’s not based on gpa; it’s really based on interest,” she said. There was a lot of interest shown last year when some 200 students applied to the program. However, the program is limited to how many students it can accept based on how many students can fit into the van provided to get students to LSU after school, then back home.

This year, the program started with 14 students, but three dropped out for various reasons. That left 11 students who will present their science research findings first at school on April 28, then with a public science poster showing on April 30. The poster session will be held from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the LSU Energy, Coast and Environment building.

“They really get a chance to explain what they’ve done,” Peterson said.

Joseph Powers, professor of oceanography at LSU and faculty adviser for the program, said the program matches each student with two mentors. The mentors can be professors or graduate or undergraduate students.

Christopher D’Elia, dean of the LSU School of the Coast and Environment, said the program is not only a great opportunity for high school students to get more exposure to science, but it’s good for the graduate students who mentor them, giving the college students a better idea of what it means to teach.

As he was waiting to give his water-quality presentation to the group, D’Elia looked at the students as they were heading toward a laboratory and said, “It’s a chance to give back a little and look toward the future.”