Supporting URM and Low-Income Students.
The diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) literature tells us that undergraduate mentoring programs help programs retain and recruit under-represented minority (URM) and low-income students by providing students with the academic, social, and financial support they need. Mentoring programs, like the Meyerhoff program, have shown numerous positive benefits for students. Results show that Meyerhoff students generally earned higher grades in STEM fields, graduated with STEM degrees at a higher rate, and were more likely to attend graduate school in STEM fields than comparison groups (Maton, Hrabowski, and Schmitt 2000; Tsui 2007; Summers and Hrabowski 2006).
Diversifying Environmental Fields.
In addition, data show that minorities are under-represented in environmental majors and environmental non-governmental organizations, but some research suggests that of the over 3.9 million environmental educators in the United States, 47% are from racial minority groups (Gupta et al. 2018). This suggests that a large pool of potential mentors and leaders exists within minority communities, but that minority environmental educators are excluded from or made less visible within professional spheres.
Creating Community & Belonging.
Finally, in NSOE itself focus groups with undergraduates currently in NSOE majors suggest that NSOE undergraduates do not identify as “Nicholas School” students, but they would like to do so (Focus Group 18 Mar 2019). Moreover, undergraduate students responded favorably to the idea of an opt-in mentoring program that would facilitate interaction with graduate students in particular. In this, students wanted both group and one-on-one meetings. Students also wanted to be matched with graduate students based on level and interest. They were particularly interested in a flunch-like model for meeting with graduate students, as this would allow students to more organically meet and bond with potential mentors.