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    STEM students just got easier access to green jobs

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    When the U.S. economy bottomed out in 2008, Jason Morris lost his pool construction job and his home. “The rug was pulled out from under me,” he said. “Since then, my own personal situation has been difficult.”

    However, things are looking up these days.

    Morris, 50, plans to graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver in May with a bachelor’s degree. biology.First-generation college students land internships through the Environmental Protection Agency Pathway programs for students and recent graduatesAnd if all goes well, I hope to get a full-time job at the agency when I graduate.

    “Most of the team members have Ph.D.s in geologists, marine biologists, and chemists,” he said of his internship colleagues. “You have a great breed. We lean on each other. We have a cool team with a variety of expertise.”

    MSU Denver students like Morris benefit from the university’s close partnership with the Denver-based EPA Region 8 office. The partnership was formalized in September through a memorandum of understanding (MOU), said Dr. Xu Ping Liu, professor in the Department of Biology and director of the institute. Advanced STEM Education Center.

    MSU Denver biology major Jason Morris is interning through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Student and New Graduate Career Program and hopes to get a full-time job at the agency upon graduation.Photo credit: Alison McLellan

    The memorandum of understanding is an expanded renewal of an agreement first signed in 2018 that provides support for student internship and career preparation, outreach programs that bring EPA personnel to campus, support for student initiatives related to education and the environment, and common interests. Liu said the project covers cooperation in certain studies. This memorandum grew out of ongoing conversations she had with her agency representatives.

    “We really tried to bring the EPA together more formally. From classroom to career hub” said Liu. “From my perspective, we want to encourage students to collaborate with staff scientists, invite staff scientists to be guest speakers in the classroom, and encourage students to pursue their STEM careers.” We’re trying to build that path so that we can invite them as speakers.”

    The Pathways program was created to provide entry-level jobs to recent graduates, Liu said. “It’s really flexible,” she said. “They really work with students around their schedules. They can work part-time during the semester and full-time during the summer.”


    Related: Partnership expands career paths in renewable energy


    This program is also highly competitive. This year’s winners were MSU Denver students Morris and Brandon Holt, 27.

    Holt is a third-year student majoring in plant ecology and geographic information systems (GIS). Individual degree programs. He is scheduled to graduate in December 2024.

    Since July, he has been interning at EPA’s Division of Child Health, Environmental Justice and Equity, primarily working on geographic information systems for colleagues reviewing grant applications. EJ screen, an environmental justice screening and mapping tool. Create maps and reports by combining data on environmental hazards such as particulate matter, lead paint, and ozone with demographic information such as socio-economic indicators and health disparities.

    Originally from Idaho, Holt attended Idaho State University for a while after high school, then moved to Colorado and began focusing on plants at MSU Denver in 2021. “I’ve always been interested in plants,” he said. “We cannot survive without them.”

    MSU Denver student Brandon Holt
    Brandon Holt, a plant ecology and geographic information systems major at MSU Denver, was accepted into EPA’s Pathway Program for Students and New Graduates.Photo credit: Sarah Hartwig

    He enjoys working with EPA’s Environmental Justice Group and puts his Geographic Information Systems skills to good use. “Although my degree is not focused on the plant ecology part, it leverages my GIS skills and is a good stepping stone,” he said. In the future, Holt hopes to pursue a career at the EPA while pursuing a graduate degree.

    During the summer, he works 30 to 40 hours a week at his internship and about 11 hours a week during the fall semester. “They work really well with my school schedule,” Holt said.

    As an intern, Mr. Morris works in EPA’s National Environmental Policy Division, which reviews environmental impact statements from other federal agencies. “This program is designed to get you into full-time employment quickly,” he said. The career prospects at this agency give him hope.


    Related: Once in a lifetime opportunity


    When Morris was young, he didn’t have much interest in higher education. “When you’ve been through so many bad experiences in life, you start to understand the value of that education,” he says. Morris was working on a construction site in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shut down everything. He also has chronic injuries from arthritis, compressed nerves, and a head injury from a car accident.

    “When you have an education that no one can take away from you, you have more options,” he says. “You also have the skills to meet those challenges in a different way.”

    With encouragement from his wife, Morris decided to go back to school, starting with online courses offered by Red Rocks Community College. He did so well that his wife encouraged him to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

    He said his time at MSU Denver was transformative. “This is the most inclusive and inviting place for anyone of any age, race, or sexual orientation,” he said. “I feel more welcome and more inclusive and welcoming to all kinds of people.”

    Still, Morris said, “I wanted to quit many times and it was mentally tough.” I learned the term “Impostor Syndrome” and no other term means more to me than this. My situation improved when I took an internship with the EPA. I started to believe it even more. As each week passes, I think to myself, “I can do this.” I’m doing it. ‘

    “This whole thing has been quite a challenge. We are facing challenges financially and everything, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

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