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Release: Immediate

Outstanding rural students study environmental health at UI July 20-26

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A group of 15 outstanding Iowa ninth-graders will spend a week studying college-level environmental health sciences at the University of Iowa beginning July 20 in a pilot program designed to boost opportunities for gifted and talented high school students in rural areas.

The first Environmental Health Sciences Institute for Rural Youth runs through July 26. Students who complete the program, including a requirement that they make two presentations in their home communities about their studies, will receive a $300 stipend.

The Institute, which organizers hope to make an annual program, is a joint venture between the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC) and the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the UI College of Education.

The program is designed to expose students to issues, research and problem-solving approaches dealing with the environment, agricultural occupations and human health in rural areas of the state.

Students will study with UI faculty in areas such as environmentally associated cancer, environmental assessment and control, occupational health and pulmonary biology.

Funded through EHSRC -- one of 18 environmental health sciences centers supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences -- the new Institute is one of few in the United States designed specifically for talented and gifted students in rural school districts.

Nicholas Colangelo, director of the Belin-Blank Center and co-director of the new Institute, says providing more opportunities to students in rural areas is the goal of the new program and of the Belin-Blank Center.

"Typically, small, rural districts have fewer resources to provide additional programming for highly capable students," Colangelo says. "We hope that the new Environmental Health Sciences Institute, and programs like it, will be a way to provide those students and schools with additional opportunities and, at the same time, will excite students' interest in studying issues that have enormous impact on the state."

James Merchant, director of EHSRC and a co-director of the new Institute, says faculty are looking forward to working with the high school students.

"The fact that these high school students are from rural communities is particularly important because they have a special stake in the agricultural and environmental issues that the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center focuses on," Merchant says. "Students, their families, their communities, and the university will need to work together if we are going to deal effectively with those issues."

For the pilot program, 600 gifted and talented students identified by the Belin-Blank Center who live in or near Iowa communities with fewer than 5,000 people were asked about their interest in the Environmental Health Sciences Institute. Students who were interested nominated themselves and submitted required application materials.

Participants were chosen by a committee made up of researchers at the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center and local educators.

Students who complete the program are required to make two presentations about their studies at the Institute when they return to their hometown schools in the fall. One presentation must be made to a community group and one must be made to a school group.