Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

A Multi-Level, Multi-Component Program at San José State University to Enhance Diversity in the Geosciences

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

A Multi-Level, Multi-Component Program at San José State University to Enhance Diversity in the Geosciences

Article excerpt


Our long-standing professional development center at San José State University (SJSU) has recently focused its efforts on increasing the number of undergraduate students from underrepresented groups in university geoscience major programs. We collaborated with nearby schools and organizations that encourage underrepresented students to pursue scientific careers. We targeted middle-school, high-school, and lower-division college students, and middle-school and high-school teachers. Program components include summer workshops, one-day field trips and workshops, classroom visits by current geoscience majors and grad students, a "Geologist in-Residence" program that pairs a SJSU geology student with a local teacher, student research internships, and scholarships to attract and retain SJSU Geology majors. As the project progresses, we have found that some components work very well but others need to be revamped or abandoned. While long-term impacts of this program cannot yet be assessed, the robust alliance of SJSU and National Hispanic University (NHU) has blossomed far beyond our original plans. NHU's charter high school engages students in the geosciences via field and classroom activities, and a new joint NHU-SJSU geoscience degree program offers students a clearly marked path to advanced studies and careers in the geosciences.


We have worked together on professional development projects for teachers of grades 6-12 since 1990. The bulk of our work involved multi-week summer and one-day weekend workshops and field trips offered through the Bay Area Earth Science Institute (BAESI) of San José State University (SJSU), our home campus (Metzger and Sedlock, 2000; Sedlock and Metzger, 2000) .Typically, enrollment in BAESI workshops is open to any teacher who expresses interest and commits to full participation. Funding for BAESI projects has come from four grants from the National Science Foundation plus contributions from other community partners, notably Chevron and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

In 2003, we departed from our usual BAESI practice in order to specifically focus on underrepresented students and their teachers in a set of endeavors hereafter referred to as BAESI's Geo-Diversity project. As documented by the National Science Foundation (2001), African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and other groups are underrepresented in the geosciences, with participation rates lower than in other science and engineering fields. The experience of the Department of Geology atSJSU is typical of this trend: although ~35% of SJSU's 30,000 students are from underrepresented groups, including students from southeast Asia, our majors courses rarely include more than one student from these groups.

Several factors contribute to the low participation of underrepresented students in the geosciences. Economically troubled schools commonly lack the resources necessary to offer earth science courses, and few geoscientists can serve as role models for students from underrepresented groups (Barstow, 2002). Pre-college teachers are often inadequately prepared to teach geoscience and are thus not likely to serve as effective "ambassadors" to inspire student involvement (Ridky, 2002). Adding to the problem, underrepresented students are more likely to have out-of-field teachers and to attend schools that lack resources for hands-on science instruction (Weiss, 1994). Minority students commonly live in urban settings where connections with earth processes may seem remote to their lives (Birnbaum, 2004; O'Connell, et al., 2004).

The complex problem of attracting more underrepresented students to the geosciences has no simple solution, but successful programs for broadening participation typically contain several common elements, including student-centered teaching, supportive learning environment, mentoring and peer interaction, relevance to students' lives, and participation in real, ongoing research projects (Clewell, et al. …

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