Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Pathways to the Geosciences Summer High School Program: A Ten-Year Evaluation

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Pathways to the Geosciences Summer High School Program: A Ten-Year Evaluation

Article excerpt


The high demand for scientists and engineers in the workforce means that there is a continuing need for more strategies to increase student completion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors, allowing them to enter the workforce to enjoy successful careers in these STEM disciplines. The challenge lies not only in finding and enacting effective strategies to increase students' completion of STEM degrees, but also in recruiting students to these disciplines, especially those from underrepresented minority groups. Here we use the National Science Foundation's (NSF) definition of underrepresented groups, which includes African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Native Pacific Islanders, Native Alaskans, and persons with disabilities.

Among the STEM disciplines, the geosciences are a relatively small field in terms of numbers of students and professionals. For example, in 2010, fewer than 1% of bachelor's degrees awarded in STEM came from the Earth, Atmospheric, and Ocean Sciences (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2013a). Yet, knowledge in basic geoscience fields is essential to enhancing many areas of modern society, including the discovery and development of energy resources and sustaining the global environment.

When it comes to the population of undergraduate students from underrepresented minorities in geosciences, the shortage is acute. In 2008, underrepresented minorities comprised 23% of all enrolled students and 16% of all graduates from 4-year universities, while fewer than 10% of geoscience graduates at all degree levels were underrepresented minorities (Gonzalez and Keane, 2011). At 8%, the geosciences conferred the lowest percentage of bachelor's degrees to students from underrepresented minorities compared to all other science and engineering fields, which averaged approximately 12% in 2010 (NSF, 2013b).

A decision to pursue a STEM major is a longitudinal process that begins during secondary education and carries into postsecondary studies (Wang, 2013). Here again, the geosciences as a discipline face a distinctive challenge, as course work in the field is rarely required after middle school. Geology and environmental science classes are sometimes offered at the high school level, but typically only as electives. For example, in the El Paso, Texas, area where the data presented in this study were gathered, only three or four of over 40 high schools have ever offered a geosciences course within the last 10 years. Further, even though El Paso is in Texas, it lies far from the petroleum producing regions of the state and few professionals in the community pursue careers in the geosciences. Without other means of exposure, high school students are not likely to be aware of the geosciences as a career choice.

An alternative is to introduce students to the geosciences through a summer program. Indeed, summer programs are a common strategy for increasing interest in and recruitment to STEM careers in general among K-12 students (e.g., Atwater et al., 1999; Knox et al., 2003; Bischoff et al., 2008). Here we report on 10 years of data collected from a 2-week summer program, held at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) that was designed to introduce high school students from groups underrepresented in STEM to the geosciences. The long-term goal of the program was to form a sustained pipeline of students from El Paso high schools to undergraduate majors in geological sciences and eventually to graduate programs and careers in the geosciences. We note that El Paso, with a regional population of greater than 800,000 of which more than 80% is Hispanic, is fertile ground for recruiting such students into STEM disciplines.

In order to assess the effectiveness of the program in meeting its goal, we designed and administered surveys to participants on an annual basis. A total of 245 students participated in the program over 10 years. Short-term indicators from the survey data show statistically significant positive changes in student attitudes towards science and the geosciences as a result of participation in the program. …

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