Celebrating two decades of excellence: The 10th Biennial NOAA EPP/MSI forum

Excited, delighted, honored, and inspired — these are just some words that attendees used to describe their feelings at phase one of the 10th Biennial NOAA EPP/MSI Education and Science Forum offsite link. This year’s José E. Serrano Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) forum, “Two decades of excellence: Nurturing future leaders in STEM,” celebrated the 20-year anniversary of EPP/MSI and was hosted virtually by the NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems offsite link (CCME) at Florida A&M University on April 8-9, 2021.


An artistically blurred photo of grass in front of a beach with the sun low in the sky.

An artistically blurred photo of grass in front of a beach with the sun low in the sky. (Image credit: NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems)

Larry Robinson, Ph.D., CCME Director and President of Florida A&M University, kicked off the event with a warm welcome, and was the first of three opening speakers that highlighted the accomplishments of the EPP/MSI program. 

Louisa Koch, Director of NOAA Education, spoke not only about the impressive work of the Cooperative Science Centers, but also the accomplishments of program graduates: “We are very proud of the important work EPP/MSI alumni are doing. They are making important contributions across NOAA by helping us better understand and predict changes in the weather, climate, ocean, and coasts,” said Koch.

Ben Friedman, Deputy Under Secretary for Operations and Acting NOAA Administrator, joined in celebrating EPP/MSI, declaring it one of his favorite programs at NOAA. “[EPP/MSI has] literally changed the demographics of those entering NOAA mission sciences,” said Friedman, referring to EPP/MSI’s impacts over the past 20 years. 

Following the opening remarks, Lisa P. Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, inspired attendees during a “fireside chat” interview with Larry Robinson. As the former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Jackson talked about her journey from government to the private sector and shared the importance of racial equity and justice in environmental work. “I always thought of myself as someone who was just an environmentalist, but now I realize there is a way to do environmentalism that empowers people … that increases justice and access,” she said.

Throughout the forum, NOAA leadership, EPP/MSI alumni, and STEM professionals, including scientists from across the agency, focused on students. They shared their career journeys, discussed cutting-edge NOAA work, offered insight into how students can reach their career and educational goals, and emphasized the value of student research. Student speakers illustrated this point during compelling presentations on their research and on NOAA Experiential Research Training Opportunity (NERTO) experiences. Students talked about the value of their NERTOs, from discovering new research topics to personal growth. “I have grown as a person, a Ph.D. student, and a professional in environmental science,” said Pamela Lara of the NOAA Cooperative Science Center in Atmospheric Science and Meteorology offsite link

Both days of the forum ended with professional development sessions for students. Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D., of NOAA Fisheries spoke to students about the value of NOAA mentors, how to find one, and how to maximize the experience for both themselves and the mentor. Aya Collins, NOAA Ocean Service’s Communications and Education Division Director, shared strategies for improving professional communication skills.

From a celebration of 20 years of EPP/MSI successes to opportunities for students to speak, learn, and explore future careers, phase one of the forum exemplified its theme, “Two decades of excellence: Nurturing future leaders in STEM.” 

Phase one of the forum may be viewed at NOAA CCME’s YouTube channel. Phase two of the forum is planned for Fall 2021 at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, on October 25-27, 2021. CCME will continue to monitor CDC guidance on travel recommendations and large gatherings and will provide updates on the status of the event on the forum website offsite link. Phase two of the forum will focus on student presentations, including speakers and posters from both the EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship Program and the EPP/MSI Cooperative Science Centers. There will also be student professional development and networking opportunities, and exhibits from the private sector, government agencies, and contracting firms interested in recruiting EPP/MSI-trained students.