Along with D.N. Lee, I’ll be convening a session on Casting a wider net: Promoting gender and ethnic diversity in STEM at Science Online 2010. To start discussion going in preparation for the session, DNL is hosting the next edition of the Diversity in Science carnival, with a theme of “STEM Diversity and Broad Impacts I: Highlights of successful, ambitious STEM diversity programs such as REUs, mentoring programs and scholarships for college under-graduates, graduate students, post-doctoral associates and early career scientists and engineers.” The deadline for submissions is today, and the carnival will go up on Friday.
In the United States, we have a diversity problem in the geosciences. Less than 5% of BS degrees in geosciences go to minorities, contrasting with ~15% in science and engineering as a whole (NSF data from 2000). As we move into graduate school the problem remains: 3.3% at the M.S. level and 5% at the PhD level. For the sciences and engineering combined, it’s 10.6% for the MS and 8.2% for the PhD. Contrast this with the demographics of the American population, and you see that the sciences in general, and geosciences in particular, are not doing a good job of attracting students that reflect the diversity of our country and are losing out on the discoveries a more diverse scientific community might be able to produce.
NSF has recognized this near-monoculture in geosciences as a problem, and specifically solicits ideas and programs that might improve the situation through its Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) program. Here’s the gist of the program synopsis:
“The primary goal of the OEDG Program is to increase participation in the geosciences by African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans (American Indians and Alaskan Natives), Native Pacific Islanders (Polynesians or Micronesians), and persons with disabilities. A secondary goal of the program is to increase the perceived relevance of the geosciences among broad and diverse segments of the population. The OEDG Program supports activities that will increase the number of members of underrepresented groups who:
* Are involved in formal pre-college geoscience education programs;
* Pursue bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees in the geosciences;
* Enter geoscience careers; and
* Participate in informal geoscience education programs.”
The program offers three tracks for funding: planning grants (getting our act together to roll out a new program); proof-of-concept projects (one-time and short-term activities); and full-scale projects (5 years of funding and designed to be self-sustained after the end of the grant period).
The array of projects that have been funded by the OEDG program is inspiring.
- Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland is helping high school students and their teachers connect to the geosciences by giving them hands-on field experiences in Chesapeake Bay in a proof-of-concept OEDG grant.
- Faculty at North Carolina A&T State University, Penn State University, Fort Valley State University, University of Texas El Paso, and California State University Northridge are developing AfricaArray, an alliance that will run summer workshops for high school teachers, create scholarships and high school outreach activities, conduct a summer field course in Africa to recruit and mentor undergraduate students, and provide opportunities for students to participate in research in Africa, in a full-scale project through OEDG.
- The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology is creating Ocean FEST (families exploring science together) to reach out to elementary-school Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and their families by creating an evening program to engage them with ocean-environment issues and demonstrate the value of geoscience careers to the local community, in a proof-of-concept grant.
- Lake Superior State University in northern Michigan is creating a two-week summer geoscience field experience targeting Native-American high school students, by engaging them in solving geological problems with faculty, taking them to sites of both geological and Native American significance, and linking ways of scientific thinking and ways of knowing from within their own cultures.
The projects listed above are just a sampling of the sort of programs that OEDG funds. My university serves ~25% minority students, but our upper-level geoscience classrooms are significantly whiter. In my third year at Charlotte, I am still trying to develop my sense of how to get my classrooms to be more reflective of the university’s student body and the wider community. How can I cast a wider net?
I am starting to think down the line toward an OEDG proposal aimed at giving urban, minority university students a field geoscience experience and then maybe having them partner with high school students to do geoscience research projects in the local area. I’d be curious to know if any of our readers have experience doing this sort of project or if any of you might be interested in partnering on some future OEDG proposal.