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By Megan Hoert Hughes

HughesMegan Hoert Hughes is the STEM Diversity Program Manager and an Environmental Health Educator with the UNC Institute for the Environment’s Center for Public Engagement with Science.

The UNC Institute for the Environment launches 2019-2020 IDEA geoscience interns

The UNC Institute for the Environment is pleased to announce the 2019-2020 IDEA (Increasing Diversity and Enhancing Academia) cohort: NCCU students Isabel Gutierrez, Nateja Hale, Aundre Jackson, and Lettia Spruill and UNC students Iris Chien, Natalie Gauger, Maribel Herrera, Chloe Kent, Rachael Rankin, and Sage Turek.

This summer, the selected undergraduate students from UNC and NCCU will be completing 10-week research internships with faculty in the UNC School of Public Health, Departments of Geography, Geological Sciences, and Marine Sciences, and the NCCU Department of Environmental, Earth, and Geospatial Sciences.

During the internships, students will have the opportunity to:

  • conduct research alongside their faculty mentor;
  • engage in data collection and analysis in the lab and field; and
  • present a professional poster of their research at the 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium on July 24, 2019.

In addition, the cohort will meet throughout the 2019-2020 academic year to continue to explore geoscience pathways and to meet researchers in the field.

fluid dynamics
IDEA students learn about fluid dynamics in a lab at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.


The geosciences have the lowest diversity of all the STEM disciplines. IDEA is designed to provide a high quality, mentored research experience as a mechanism for retaining students, especially female and under-represented minority (URM) students, in the geosciences. In addition to providing internships, the team is also trying to learn more about the role of mentoring in STEM diversity. For example, IDEA researchers are interested in learning more about mentor and student perspectives on attributes of high quality mentoring and how mentorship influences students, and especially female and URM students, to pursue geoscience college and career pathways. Students in past IDEA cohorts have maintained relationships with their mentors and, through these connections, gone on to author peer-reviewed research and engage in additional lab and field experiences at UNC and beyond.

IDEA alum Madeline Hunt (IDEA 2018-2019; Major: Physics and Geophysics, Minor: Women’s and Gender Studies) reflected on her research experience in this way:

“IDEA allowed me to gain deeper insight into how research is actually conducted.  I got to experience both the exciting and the hard parts of the research process. This experience helped me narrow down what I really love about research and what topics I am interested in pursuing in my career, even if the process might be challenging.”

Madeline Hunt, along with other 2018-2019 IDEA students Sarah Brooker, Coby Dorsey, and Kirsi Oldenburg, on a research trawl near the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. (Photo Credit: Abby Fancher)

The IDEA team includes Dr. Kathleen Gray, PI, and Megan Hoert Hughes, MEM, Program Manager, at the UNC Institute for the Environment, Dr. Drew Coleman, co-PI, Department of Geological Sciences, and Dr. Gordana Vlahovic and Dr. Chris McGinn from the NCCU Department of Environmental, Earth, and Geospatial Sciences. Dr. Sherick Hughes, UNC School of Education, is lead evaluator on the project.

More information about the 2019 Summer Undergraduate Pipeline Research Symposium, hosted by the UNC Graduate School, can be found here:

IDEA is funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) GEOPATHS program. For more information about the program please visit:

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