Natural Resources mentors guide students to national success


For the second-straight year, mentors from UNL's School of Natural Resources helped a group of high school students earn top honors at the national EnvironMentors competition.

Nebraska's delegation of three students earned individual first and second places. Emica Diep, a junior at Lincoln High School, took first place with a presentation on "The Effect of Drano on Algae Populations." Maddie McAlister, also a junior at Lincoln High, finished second with a presentation on "Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) Programs: An Effective Way to Manage Feral Cat Populations."

The third Nebraska student who competed in the contest was Jamie Huynh, a junior from Northstar High School. She studied "Weather's Emotional Effects on Teenagers."

UNL has been involved in the EnvironMentors program for two years. EnvironMentors pairs first-generation college students with mentors in environmental fields.

"This is the second year in a row that our chapter has walked away with first place," said David Gosselin, director of UNL's Environmental Studies program. "This is a great accomplishment. I would also lie to congratulate the students' mentors, Sara Yendra, Kate Delashmutt and Mary Bomberger Brown, without whose guidance the outcome would not have been possible. This is truly a team effort."

Diep was mentored by Yendra, an Environmental Studies academic adviser, and DeLashmutt, an environmental studies major at UNL. The first place finish included a $1,000 scholarship.

"From a mentor's perspective, I felt it was a really unique experience to work with a high school student related to something we were both interested in," said Yendra. "I enjoyed watching Emica grow as she developed her ideas and gained confidence in them. By the time we got to Washington, she had been totally transformed. She was very confident, and proud of her work."

For the second year, McAlister teamed with Brown, coordinator of the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership. McAlister won the competition last year. She received $750 for the second-place finish this time.

EnvironMentors helped McAlister get "beyond bashfulness," Brown said. "She now knows she can accomplish things. Because of the project she did this year, she's gotten more involved in community service - volunteering, working with, being part of community groups."

Huynh partnered with Umphlett, a climatologist at the High Plains Regional Climate Center, and graduate student H.W. Kalibo.

After two years of success, UNL is experimenting with combining EnvironMentors with the university's longstanding Upward Bound program, which serves a similar group of students. Each of eight EnvironMentors programs in the nation sends their top students to the competition.

"Our program is different from other EnvironMentors chapters because our students work in collaboration with a post-secondary supplement program like Upward Bound," said Le Nguyen, UNL's Upward Bound mentoring coordinator. "Other chapters actually have students in a class doing EnvironMentors projects and getting graded for their work. Our student have choices. We've learned that if the students enjoy their topic they will take ownership and show more commitment."

For more information about the EnvironMentors program, go to

- By Kelly Smith, School of Natural Resources

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