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Many urban high school students are not adequately prepared to make individual decisions about college fit, understand what it will take to succeed in higher education once enrolled, or see the vast career opportunities available in the STEM arena. Their study of environmental science rarely takes place in the field or provides an opportunity for "hands-on" research or projects. As a result, students are under-exposed to careers in the field, and often do not develop the foundation necessary for success in college science or an ethic of stewardship.

Michigan Colleges Foundation (MCF), with seed support from corporate and individual donors, has developed an innovative program connecting college faculty and students with urban high school students to experience real-world environmental projects in their local communities. The "Third 90 Network" program requires additional funding for expansion to allow more urban students to participate. New funding is needed to scale the program, add new high schools throughout the state and enable additional participants.

The "Third 90 Network" is a new collaborative program that partners urban high schools in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Three Rivers, Michigan with MCF independent colleges. Students work in project teams and participate in wetland water quality research, invasive species removal, soil testing, and other fundamental environmental research topics. In addition to the field work, students also visit MCF college and university campuses to work in a laboratory further inspiring potential interest in the STEM field as a career option.

At the end of the semester-long program, students formally present the findings of their research to peers, teachers, parents, community leaders and corporate donors. Environmental stewardship, personal college fit choices, and careers in science are discussion topics reinforced by the faculty and college students who have guided the project work and served as mentors.

First piloted in 2010 and based on proven experiential learning research, students have described the program as "transformational" and life-changing also noting that "they never knew science could be so interesting".

MCF is looking to further expand the program to additional high schools in Detroit and Grand Rapids and more significantly, scale this program as a model for the nation's urban schools.

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