Funded by the NOAA Educational Partnership Program with Minority-Serving Institutions Cooperative Agreement Award #NA16SEC4810009

Environmental sciences more than just playing with dirt

UTRGV’s SEEMS offers course of study with earning potential


YOUTUBE VIDEO  by Malena Hernandez:

By Malena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – FEB. 12, 2018 – When Rebekah Hernandez chose her major, her family was concerned. She remembers them asking, “Are you sure you want to do this? Do you even have job opportunities with this? What is going to happen with your life?”


Hernandez, a UTRGV graduate student in the School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences (SEEMS), said her father just wanted to make sure she didn’t live paycheck to paycheck.


But for Hernandez, environmental science was more than just a course of study. It was work that needed to be done.

“I want to be part of what’s being done to conserve our waters and conserve what’s in our oceans. I’m concerned about habitats that are being degraded, habitats that are being destroyed,” she said.


Dr. David Hicks, SEEMS director, said the perception that environmental science careers do not have earning potential may be a contributing factor to an underrepresentation of minorities in the field.


“I think it’s a matter of them not really knowing there are well-paying, rewarding jobs in the sciences, other than being a physician,” he said.


In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that pay for environmental scientists and specialists ranged from $41,220 to $120,320, with a median annual wage of $68,910.


The agency also predicted these jobs will grow faster than the average of all occupations until 2026.


While minorities are currently a small part of that workforce, UTRGV is working with other organizations to see they are well represented in the future.


“There are a lot of state and federal programs that target training for minority students in order to increase their representation in the science fields,” Hicks said.




UTRGV is one of six minority-serving universities in the nation participating in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems. The program’s mission is “to recruit, train and graduate students, particularly from underrepresented communities.”


“The program actually provides very attractive support for both undergraduate and graduate students that relates to marine coastal and environmental science,” Hicks said.


Professional development, like résumé writing and networking, is included.


Hernandez said the grant she received has opened many doors for her.


“I'm on a NOAA grant. With this grant, you get to meet a lot of NOAA scientists,” she said. “It opens a lot of job opportunities.”


She traveled to Mississippi in July as part of a class to learn about coastal and marine resources, and in November, the UTRGV graduate student was part of an eight-day expedition from Panama City, Panama, to Key West, Florida, conducting ocean-floor mapping.


“It’s one of those experiences that you don’t want to miss out on,” she said.




Another program at UTRGV aiming to increase minority representation in environmental sciences is SHIP-GEO, which stands for Stimulating Hispanic Participation in the Geosciences. Participants get hands-on experience during field trips, and their families are invited.


“We try to encourage family to participate, because we want to change their thinking in terms of their child, in terms of career,” said Dr. Chu-Lin Cheng, a UTRGV assistant professor for SEEMS and the Department of Civil Engineering.


“The family impression is that if you go play in the dirt – in the environment – that’s not a good money-making career in the long run,” he said.


In addition to hands-on training, research, and alumni mentoring, students can also apply for SHIP-GEO scholarships, which aim to help with program retention.


“We keep students in the program, have them graduate with an environmental science degree, and by the networking component, we help them get a job,” Cheng said. “We also have outreach to local high schools, because we know we have to plant the seeds from K to 12 to protect our own environment, our own backyard – the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.”


Hicks said that, in addition to the career potential for students, environmental sciences play an important role in all our lives.


“We try to think of ourselves as somehow separated from our environment, but we’re very much integrated in our environment,” he said. “A bad environment for nature is a bad environment for us.”


Hernandez said she wants to study environmental science because she wants the work she does to be worthwhile.


“If you really want to do something that’s going to benefit our environment and benefit lives and generations to come, I would do something environmentally based, because we're always going to need scientists,” she said.


To learn more about the programs available at the UTRGV School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences, visit




Rebekah Hernandez, a UTRGV SEEMS graduate student, in November participated in a NOAA expedition from Panama City, Panama, to Key West, Florida, in November. (Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)




The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.


UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.




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NCCOS Hosts NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Annual Meeting
Last week NCCOS hosted the 2017 NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems (CCME) Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. The event brought together science leads and faculty researchers to coordinate partnership activities that support CCME and NOS’s mutual science and workforce development goals. CCME was created last fall through a cooperative agreement administered through […] Continue reading

On August 29, 2016, NOAA’s Office of Education announced $11.9 million in grants to four lead minority-serving institutions (MSIs) across the country. The funds will be used to educate and graduate students who pursue degree programs with applied research in NOAA mission-related scientific fields.

Retired Vice Adm. Manson Brown, deputy NOAA administrator, meets with center directors at the 8th Biennial EPP Education and Science Forum in New York. Left to right: Dr. Reza Khanbilvardi, City College, City University of New York; Dr. Paulinus Chigbu, University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Dr. Vernon Morris, Howard University; Larry Robinson, Florida A&M University; VADM Manson Brown, deputy NOAA administrator; and Dr. Michael Abazinge, Florida A&M University.

Awards were made to Florida A&M University, Howard University, City College of New York and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. These institutions partnered with 24 other schools to establish four cooperative science centers. The centers will train students in earth system sciences and remote sensing technology, coastal and marine ecosystems, living marine resources and atmospheric sciences and meteorology – all core science fields for NOAA. 

“The excitement and true value of these programs provides students with an opportunity to help NOAA solve real world problems in the realms of earth sciences and environmental intelligence,” said Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator. 

Retired Vice Adm. Manson Brown, deputy NOAA administrator, is in New York today to commemorate the 15-year partnership with participating institutions. He added, “These programs also give NOAA access and exposure to America’s future scientists and technologists as we endeavor to build a workforce that is more diverse and inclusive.”

Grant awards were made through NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI). Since the first grants were made in 2001, NOAA EPP/MSI cooperative science centers have awarded degrees to over 1,600 students who have earned post-secondary degrees in NOAA mission-related fields. 

The long term goal of NOAA's Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions is to increase the number of students, particularly from underrepresented communities, who attend Minority Serving Institutions and graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The grants were announced at the NOAA EPP/MSI 8th Biennial Education and Science Forum held in New York and attended by NOAA senior leaders, U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, as well as representatives of the lead and partner institutions.

All grant awards were made after a rigorous competitive peer review process by external reviewers from academia and other federal agencies.

FY 2016 NOAA EPP/MSI Center Award Recipients

NOAA Center for Earth System Sciences and Remote Sensing Technologies

Lead institution: City College of New York


  • Hampton University (Virginia)
  • University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez
  • University of Maryland – Baltimore County
  • San Diego State University (California)
  • University of Texas at El Paso

NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystem

Lead institution: Florida A&M University


  • Bethune-Cookman University (Florida)
  • California State University Monterey Bay
  • Jackson State University (Mississippi)
  • Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
  • University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center

Lead institution: University of Maryland Eastern Shore


  • Delaware State University
  • Hampton University (Virginia)
  • Oregon State University
  • Savannah State University (Georgia)
  • University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology
  • University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology

Lead institution: Howard University (Washington, DC)
  • Jackson State University (Mississippi)
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • San Jose State University (California)
  • State University of New York at Albany
  • University of Maryland – Baltimore County
  • University of Maryland – College Park
  • University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez
  • University of Texas at El Paso

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on TwitterFacebookInstagram and our other social media channels.


Kristen Jabanoski
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