Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Geoscience Pipeline: A Conceptual Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

The Geoscience Pipeline: A Conceptual Framework

Article excerpt


In order to assess the effectiveness of projects intended to increase the participation of members of traditionally underrepresented groups in geoscience careers, short-term indicators of "success" must be identified and developed. Our first step in identifying these indicators was the creation of a model of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career pipeline, based on a literature review of factors associated with STEM career choice in minority populations. To validate the appropriateness of this model for the geosciences, as well as to identify factors specific to geoscience career choice, we conducted a critical incident study and further refined our pipeline model. We used the model to determine the potential efficacy of different approaches that are being employed by geoscience diversity projects and to show how it can be used for determining the effectiveness of these projects.


The Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), awards grants to projects that are intended to increase participation in geoscience careers by members of groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in geoscience disciplines. In this case, underrepresented groups refer specifically to persons with disabilities, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Pacific Islanders. OEDG grantee projects are implementing a variety of approaches designed to influence the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of underrepresented students at grade levels ranging from middle school through graduate school.

In order to determine if these projects are successful in their intentions, it would be necessary to ascertain whether project activities were responsible for members of underrepresented groups' eventual employment in the field of geosciences. Unfortunately, career-employment measures are infeasible for most projects because they would require extensive, expensive, multi-year tracking of participants. In order to assess project effectiveness in the short term, it is necessary to identify factors that are associated with an enhanced likelihood of employment in the field of geosciences.

Since there were no existing models of geoscience career choice, we chose to initiate our study by conducting a review of the literature to identify factors associated with STEM career choice by minority students. In doing so, we were making the assumption that only by being attracted to and retained within the STEM career pipeline would a student emerge as a geoscientist.

In order to verify the appropriateness and relevance of this model, as well as to try to identify factors unique to the geosciences, we conducted a small critical incident study. It is worth noting that this methodology has been used to study factors responsible for STEM major choices (and field switching) by African American and Hispanic undergraduates (Brown and Clewell, 1995; Bembry et al., 1998) and to identify barriers to STEM career pursuit and development by individuals with disabilities (Weisgerber, 1991).

We chose this qualitative methodology because of its empirical basis: Factors identified througn this technique are based on the actual experiences of professional geoscientists who described actual incidents in their lives tnat were responsible for their geoscience career choice. In other words, each identified factor is something that was reported to be responsible for an individual's geoscience career choice. Large numbers of participants were not essential for our purpose; A single person self-reporting an event can determine both the criticality of the event and its impact, and validates the inclusion of the factor in our model.

We used this pipeline model to determine the appropriateness of the approaches being used the different OEDG projects. We developed a descriptive schema to categorize approaches and linked these approaches with components of the pipeline model, verifying their potential efficacy for achieving desired outcomes. …

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