State honors Northeastern youth outreach program

A Northeastern University outreach program designed to help underserved school-aged girls develop scientific inquiry and citizenship skills was honored Monday by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Beach Sisters is a collaborative program between Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and Girls Inc. of Lynn, a nonprofit based in Lynn, Massachusetts. The program received the highest-level certificate of excellence awarded at the Secretary’s Awards for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education ceremony, which was held at the Massachusetts State House.

Through Beach Sisters, high school peer leaders are trained to deliver after-school programming in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—to middle- and elementary-school students. Under the guidance of an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow and graduate student volunteers from the Marine Science Center, peer leaders plan and deliver programming in the classroom and through informal drop-in sessions.

The programming—which includes a touch tank with marine species from the Marine Science Center and classroom sessions on stormwater runoffs’ impact on local marine life—also aims to help youth discover academic and career opportunities in marine and environmental science.

The Beach Sisters partnership began in 2011, and now more than 100 girls participate in its programs each year.

“The ultimate goal of environmental education is developing environmentally responsible citizens, and a stewardship ethic develops when people are given opportunities to practice addressing local issues,” said Carole McCauley, outreach program coordinator at the Marine Science Center. “Engaging youth in the local community, especially an underserved city like Lynn, creates opportunities for many of our faculty and students to communicate the significance of their research to young people.”

The program’s six peer leaders, all of whom attend high school in Lynn, were on hand Monday to receive the award from Matthew Beaton, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“The experience of being recognized at the statehouse for their efforts and their commitment to environmental education is something that shows our teen peer leaders—as well as the adults that mentor and support them—that what they are doing is truly valued by leaders in our society,” McCauley said.