By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Pearl River Community College President Dr. William A. Lewis and the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program Director Ben Scaggs signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday that will see the Program use PRCC honors students in projects aimed at improving the environmental quality of the Gulf of Mexico. The agreement was actually between the PRCC Honors Institute and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program.
The Gulf of Mexico Program, an extension of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, is a non-regulatory program founded in 1988 by the EPA, and has already utilized some PRCC honors students in Gulf projects the Program has initiated at Stennis Center where the Program is headquartered.
Officials pointed out that the PRCC Honors Institute provides intellectually gifted students an enriched and challenging curriculum designed to foster individual scholarship and research.
Officials also said that the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program at Stennis works to protect, maintain and restore the health and productivity of the Gulf in ways that are consistent with the area’s economic well-being, and officials said the agreement will be a collaborative effort to “further the missions of both entities.”
The memorandum creates a “partnership,” said Scaggs and Lewis.
The memorandum, signed on Monday, is the first of its kind with a junior college system. PRCC is the first to sign an agreement with the Program, but Scaggs said, in a press conference after the signing ceremony, that he hoped to sign other agreements with more of Mississippi’s junior colleges. He said the Program already has an agreement with USM.
Scaggs said PRCC was the first community college because it is the nearest to Stennis Center.
The Program will utilize the resources of college level honors students to help impact the students’ knowledge of environmental issues the Gulf of Mexico faces, and also to help the agency utilize college-level talent in its on-going projects.
For instance, PRCC sophomore Sofia Tent, a 20-year-old accounting major from Carriere, recently did an internship with the Gulf of Mexico Program, and she praises the insight the program provided her. She and other PRCC honors students who have participated in the Program were on-hand for the signing ceremony on Monday, which was held in PRCC Bender cafeteria’s Community Room.
Tent was recommended to the Program and worked under the Program’s LaKeshia Robertson in the technical field of “environmental justice,” helping to implement and organize conferences. “I learned so much about the topic and about the issues surrounding the Gulf,” she said. “I hope I can do it again.”
Tent worked for 10 weeks in the summer program at Stennis, and expected that to be it. But she was nominated for an award and received the prestigious Student Diversity Intern Program Excellence Award for the EPA’s Southern Region. “That was a surprise,” said Tent. “Overall, it was a wonderful experience and broadened my horizons.”
In short comments before the signing, Lewis called the announcement “significant, and it will impact the college and its students greatly.”
Added Lewis, “The opportunity this program gives our students to participate and share in this program is a remarkable opportunity that will greatly enhance the classroom experience of our students.” He said students will experience “unique, practical opportunities.”
Said Scaggs, “EPA and the Gulf of Mexico Program are excited about this opportunity for us and for PRCC students. The Program is a non-regulatory, voluntary effort to better protect the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty-one states and two Canadian provinces drain into the Gulf and the issues are complex and challenging.”
Scaggs added, “We are very excited to engage bright students in the honors program here.”
Besides Scaggs, Lewis and Robertson, others on-hand for the signing were Jeanne Allen of the Gulf of Mexico Program; Dr. Stephen Black, director of the PRCC Honors Institute; Troy Pierce with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gulf of Mexico Program; and Ernie Lovell, executive director, PRCC Development Foundation-Alumni Assoc.