CAHNR Senior Supports Community Environmental Projects Through Mentorship

Participating in the Difference Makers Mentor Program allowed senior Alexandra Blas to learn about environmentalism and her love of near-peer mentoring

Alexandra Blas (right) mentors high school students through Natural Resources Conservation Academy's (NRCA) Difference Maker Mentors. (Contributed Photo)

Alexandra Blas (right) mentors high school students through Natural Resources Conservation Academy's (NRCA) Difference Maker Mentors. (Contributed Photo)

During her time at UConn, Alexandra Blas ’24 (CAHNR) has had an impact beyond the University. The allied health sciences major has worked with high school students to better their communities and their environments.

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Last year, she took a course with Laura Cisneros, associate extension professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. At the end of the course, Cisneros offered students the opportunity to be part of the Difference Makers Mentor program in the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) at UConn.

Blas jumped at the chance to be a part of this program that pairs Connecticut high school students with UConn undergraduate mentors and community partners to implement environmentally focused projects in their communities.

Blas worked with three students from Bridgeport, Stratford, and Redding, respectively.

“It was a very new experience for me,” Blas says. “I didn’t know anything about environmental science or natural resources. So, I came in new to everything. I worked along with my students, and I think I learned a lot.”

At the start of the program, students spent a week learning about different environmental issues and brainstorming ideas of how to address them.

“After that one week, they already had an idea of what they wanted to do,” Blas says.

The student at Bassick High School in Bridgeport restored a garden in their community, which is now ready for planting.

The student from Redding worked with restaurant owners and community members in Norwalk, educating them about the benefits of using oyster shells for gardening rather than disposing of them in less sustainable ways.

The third project at Bunnell High School in Stratford created a greenhouse and green rooms in their high school where students can spend time soaking up the mental health benefits of being around plants.

“I think it’s a fun way to get in touch with nature but also create something that’s so unique to yourself and to your community,” Blas says.

The students presented their projects at the Youth in STEM: A Leadership and Changemaker Summit at the Connecticut Science Center on April 6. Three students were selected to receive scholarships. This is the second project year of the Difference Makers Mentor program.

“Over the past nine to 10 months, I’ve witnessed our Difference Makers Mentors’ dedication to their mentees and their transformation as leaders and mentors,” Cisneros says. “They’ve put their heart into their work, from researching new topics to find resources and community partners for our students, to pivoting last minute to meet with their mentees in the evenings or weekends, to driving across the state to support their students as they carry out a portion of their projects. They are true advocates for their mentees.”

Blas says she intends to remain involved in community efforts like the ones she helped her mentees realize after graduation.

“If I could, I would do it all over again,” Blas says. “I want to get more involved in community projects.”

After graduation, Blas will pursue her master’s degree in pharmacogenomics starting in the fall. Blas’ ultimate career goal is to work in pharmacy in precision medicine.

Blas says her experience in the allied health sciences program allowed her to explore fields she never thought she would.

“I was exposed to a lot,” Blas says. “I thought I was only going to be in allied health classes. But then meeting different professors, taking different electives, I feel that you’re exposed to a lot and there’s opportunity wherever you look. I’m grateful for it.”


This work relates to CAHNR’s Strategic Vision area focused on Advancing Adaptation and Resilience in a Changing Climate and Enhancing Health and Well-Being Locally, Nationally, and Globally.

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