Increasing Diversity in the Marine Sciences through the Minorities in Marine Science Undergraduate Program

By Bingham, Brian L.; Sulkin, Stephen D. et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Increasing Diversity in the Marine Sciences through the Minorities in Marine Science Undergraduate Program


Bingham, Brian L., Sulkin, Stephen D., Strom, Suzanne S., Muller-Parker, Gisele, Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

The Minorities in Marine Science Undergraduate Program (MIMSUP) is an academic program at Western Washington University's Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC) that seeks to increase the representation of minority individuals in the marine sciences. For the past 13 years, groups of students have spent two 10-week quarters at SPMC studying marine science, doing independent research, and developing the skills needed for success as marine scientists/educators. Program elements include formal coursework in marine science, supervised independent research, training in up-to-date field and laboratory investigative techniques, experience developing scientific and personal job-related skills, and introduction to the career options open to marine scientists. Results indicate that the program is impacting the career paths of student participants; program alumni seek advanced education and pursue careers in the marine and environmental sciences. MIMSUP introduces underrepresented students to the marine sciences, helps them develop greater confidence in their potential, and prepares them for successful careers in this field.

Keywords: under-represented, minority, diversity, outreach education

INTRODUCTION

The Minorities in Marine Science Undergraduate Program (MIMSUP), funded by the National Science Foundation, was initiated at Western Washington University's Shannon Point Marine Center in 1991. MIMSUP was developed to address the reported under-representation or ethnic/racial minority groups in marine science disciplines (National Science Board, 1989). Relatively few minority students traditionally seek careers in oceanography or marine science (Olson, 1999) and an extremely low number of Ph.D. degrees in these fields are earned by minorities (National Science Foundation, 2000). This problem persists despite strong marine science programs at several minority-serving institutions, focused specialty programs for minority students, and a growing number of minority undergraduates earning degrees in the aquatic sciences (Gilligan 1996).

Recruitment and retention of minority students are critical to maintaining and enhancing the intellectual health of marine science disciplines. A continuing low level of enrollment of minority students in marine science graduate programs has significant implications for the profession. Indeed, two National Science Foundation-sponsored workshops have concluded that the near absence of minorities in the ocean sciences is a priority issue that must be addressed (Seitz, 1992; McManus et al., 2000). Demographic changes in the U.S. are producing ever-growing minority populations; projections indicate that minorities will constitute half the U.S. population by mid-century (Day, 1996; Lollock 2001). Much of this growth will occur in coastal regions where important management decisions will be made. Effective management of these areas and their resources will require trained experts who can connect with the local populations - connections that will be strongest if scientists and managers "look like the populations they serve" (Cuker 2001).

Minority students interested in the natural sciences often choose health-related fields. While this is obviously an appropriate path for some, others simply have not been introduced to alternative careers, including the marine sciences. Here we provide data on MIMSUP including a description of the program structure, its development, and the program outcomes. Our hope is that others interested in recruiting and training under-represented minority students in the geosciences will benefit from our experiences.

PROGRAM AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

The ultimate value of any program lies in its record of accomplishment and its ability to demonstrate that record. An important element of MIMSUP is an intensive outcomes assessment (described later in more detail) that 1) permits rigorous internal analysis leading to periodic revision of program elements and 2) provides a database of student accomplishment. …

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