MGCCC/EPA agreement offers students opportunities

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have a stronger presence at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The EPA is teaming up with MGCCC to teach the next generation of environmental stewards. This unique partnership could mean more job training and scholarships for students.

Mary Walker Bayou in Gautier served as a scenic backdrop for a major announcement Thursday. MGCCC President Dr. Mary Graham and the director of the EPA's Gulf of Mexico Program signed a memorandum of understanding. Both sides agreed to work together to enhance environmental education and preservation.

"I'm very excited about it. Gulf Coast Community College is built on partnerships. This one we feel will be a great relationship," said Graham.

The partnership opens up new opportunities for students at the college's Estuarine Education Center. Students in the fields of Biological Sciences, Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Horticulture and Landscaping can train with the experts.

"It's an opportunity for our students to be exposed to information, research, national and local speakers, potentially scholarship dollars, and for the institution, potentially grant dollars that support environmental projects across the Gulf Coast, particularly the Gulf of Mexico," said Graham.

"We're likely to hire students as interns, and we'll actually employ them at the EPA, both in the office and in the field for the work that we do that'll give them experience," said Ben Scaggs, EPA Gulf of Mexico Program Director.

In return, the federal agency can use the resources on the 40 acre complex, including the labs, boats, bayou and of course, students who are eager to learn.

"From meeting these people and learning from them, it's going to be fantastic," said NiAnna Balzli, MGCCC Outdoor Recreation Leadership Student.

"It makes it easier for me to learn at least, and I feel more motivated. I'm excited about it."

"The great thing will be exposure for the college and for our students in that the EPA will utilize these resources, bring in national speakers and people to do workshops," said Graham.

The partnership is just the springboard for future educational and environmental collaborations with the EPA. Officials said one of the biggest benefits of working with the students is they can help spread the word about the agency's mission to maintain and restore the Gulf of Mexico.

"When people hear the EPA say the environment is an important thing, they sometimes discount that. But when they hear one of their neighbors say it, it means more," said Scaggs.

"What we want to do is make those investments in young people to get them to become our ambassadors."

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