Development of an Earth and Space Science-Focused Education Program at Howard University

By Misra, Prabhakar; Carruthers, George et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Development of an Earth and Space Science-Focused Education Program at Howard University


Misra, Prabhakar, Carruthers, George, Jenkins, Gregory S., Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

We have developed a curriculum at Howard University that educates and prepares students, especially underrepresented minorities, for careers in Atmospheric, Earth and Space Sciences. One of the main objectives of the current initiative has been to provide introductory Earth & Space Science courses at the undergraduate level through the Department of Physics & Astronomy. These courses enhance student learning by including astronomical observing and laboratory demonstration opportunities at the Howard University Observatory. Intermediate-level courses in Atmospheric and Space Science have also been designed, and will serve as a bridge toward the graduate-level courses currently being offered by the M.S./Ph.D.-granting Howard University Program in Atmospheric Sciences (HUPAS). HUPAS is the first and only program at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) that offers a terminal graduate degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in Atmospheric Sciences. Currently, a total of 23 graduate students are enrolled in HUPAS, which include 14 African-Americans and 6 Hispanic-Americans, and 3 international students from Mexico, Barbados and Madagascar; and the gender breakdown is 13 females and 10 males. To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest number of African/Hispanic students enrolled in a graduate atmospheric science program in the U.S.

INTRODUCTION

Chartered by Congress in 1867, Howard University is a comprehensive, research-oriented historically Black private university in Washington, D.C., which aims to provide an educational experience of exceptional quality to students of high academic potential and with particular emphasis on making available opportunities to traditionally underrepresented minorities. It is the only predominantly African-American university to be designated a Research I university by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. Indeed, Howard University is one of only 88 universities to be so designated. Howard University has awarded more Ph.D. degrees to African-American students than any other university in the country.

Earth system science and space science are two of the most rapidly expanding fields that will impact the teaching and learning of science, mathematics and technology in the 21st century (see American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; and The National Academy of Sciences, 1996 and 2000). Keeping that in view, and against heavy odds, a few select institutions are developing new geoscience programs (Andersen et al., 2006). The growing use of space-based remote sensing for studies in Earth science, and of space science missions dedicated to the studies of other planetary atmospheres, has greatly increased the commonality of purpose in gathering data between these previously diverse fields. Earth science and space science are twin sciences that combine many of the physical sciences and engineering disciplines - physics, chemistry, biology, aerospace engineering, and meteorology - in a multidisciplinary environment. In view of the fact that the demographics of the U.S. population is undergoing a radical change, it is critical for the long-term health of the Earth and space sciences programs, and for science and technology in general, to broaden participation by including hitherto underrepresented minorities in these areas (see American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; and The National Academy of Sciences, 1996 and 2000; Private/Personal Communication, 2004, AIP, Roman Czujko). It is important to remove barriers that inhibit minority participation in the Earth and space sciences. In order to level the playing field, there is an urgent need to train a future workforce in these dual areas that is drawn from a broad-based talent pool of scientists and engineers that is inclusive rather than exclusive. In order to realize this goal of broadening minority participation, (i) we are developing Earth and space science-related academic capabilities at Howard University and (ii) fostering long-term partnerships and exchange programs in education and research between Howard University and the Space Science Division of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, and between Howard University and the Space Science Data Operations Office of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. …

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