Thirty Years of Undergraduate Support through the Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship Program

By Georgette Boddie

Photograph of GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

When I came to the Environmental Protection Agency some thirty five years ago, I did not know it would include the wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of so many students. As Program Manager for the Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship Program, I have worked with hundreds of Fellows to ensure that they have the support they need while in the program. I began in 1997 when it was called the Minority Academic Institutions Undergraduate Student Fellowships, which targeted underrepresented undergraduate students interested in the environmental sciences. We offered an opportunity for promising undergraduates to pursue these related disciplines as undergraduates with less of a financial burden. Fellows could also participate in a 12-week summer internship at an EPA facility, doing real-world science and engineering.

When I think back to my first group of Fellows (11 students), it is amazing to see that the program has grown to fund up to 40 students per year. And it’s even harder to believe that more than 400 students have been supported through the program.

The most rewarding part is knowing that because of GRO, Fellows were able to gain invaluable experience and find their true calling in the environmental field. Many now work in academia, the federal government, the private sector, non-government organizations and state agencies.

Our GRO Forum shares the stories of our alumni as they continue to protect human health and the environment. There are many that stand out in my mind and a few that have kept in touch with me over the years, keeping me posted about their career journey. Here are just a couple:

  • 1995 Fellow Gregory Crawford is easy to remember because he started before I was managing the program. I first reached out to him requesting information to include in the GRO Forum. He responded almost immediately and we have been in contact ever since!
  • Another that comes to mind is Cynthia Williams, a 2007 Fellow. She has been working toward her doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of California-Davis, with hopes of one day working for EPA. She has also given back to the program on numerous occasions, serving as a peer reviewer evaluating program applicants.

Those are just two examples of many memorable students I’ve been fortunate to get to know, but they all have had impacts on the program.

This year marks more than 30 years that EPA has provided support to undergraduate students through GRO. And with the recent announcement of our 2014 cohort of GRO Fellows, 34 more now have the opportunity to focus on their studies in environmental-related disciplines.

When the time comes for me to retire, I know I’ll be pleased to know that I have made a positive difference in the lives of so many students, and have helped to set their path as future environmental pioneers.

About the Author: Georgette Boddie has worked at EPA for 34 years. During that time she has served in numerous capacities, and in more recent years, as program manager for the GRO Undergraduate Fellowships program. Ms. Boddie has managed hundreds of student fellows throughout her professional career. However she has no doubt touched the lives of thousands.

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