Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Connecting Urban Students with Their Rivers Generates Interest and Skills in the Geosciences

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Connecting Urban Students with Their Rivers Generates Interest and Skills in the Geosciences

Article excerpt


Two different enrichment programs for urban high school students from the Greater Hartford Area of Connecticut were conducted during the summer of 2002. They were designed to expose students entering the tenth grade to Earth Science as a problem solving science in a challenging and supportive atmosphere. This was done by focusing on understanding watersheds and water quality using primarily chemical techniques on samples collected from the Connecticut River, it's two Hartford area tributaries (the Hockanum and Park Rivers) and coves and ponds adjacent to or feeding into these rivers. Students worked in groups of one to three and all gave presentations of their results (data and interpretation) on the last day. Student faculty ratios that did not exceed three to one provided close supervision and individual attention.

The majority of the students found the programs a positive experience. Students stated that they had developed a greater appreciation for science, the rivers in the Hartford area, and the issue of pollution and how it relates to them. The majority indicated that the program would help them in subsequent science classes and that they would like to continue to participate in the program the following year. All of the students said they would recommend the program to another student interested in science.


National Science Foundation (NSF) statistics in a year 2000 document on diversity in the geosciences (Prenderville and Elthon, 2000) indicate that geoscience Ph.D.s are earned by minorities at the following rate; African-Americans ~1.7%, Hispanic-Americans ~3%, and Native-Americans/Native-Alaskans ~0.5%. Thus roughly 5% of the approximately 800 Ph.D.s awarded annually in earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences are earned by minorities.

To address the lack of ethnic diversity in the geosciences, NSF provided funds to enhance minority participation through a Geodiversity Initiative, with three specific objectives.

1) Increase opportunities for geosciences research experiences for students, undergraduate and graduate, from underrepresented groups.

2) Facilitate the establishment, development and enhancement of geoscience educational research capabilities in minority serving institutions (MSIs).

3) Foster educational and research partnerships/ collaborations/exchanges between and among the following: minority serving institutions, traditional majority serving institutions, research centers, professional and industrial organizations.

Our program was developed to address the three primary objectives of this initiative. Although objectives one (research experiences) and two (research capabilities at minority serving institutions) were aimed primarily at undergraduate and graduate students, we, as others (e.g. Blackwell et al., 2003) argue that the Earth Science pipeline needs to begin before college.

High school students of all ethnic backgrounds, but especially low-income urban students, are not generally aware of the career opportunities in Earth Science and its relevance to them. For them, a connection with earth processes may seem particularly remote. Hartford, Connecticut with a poverty rate of 43% (2000 census) certainly qualifies as a low-income urban area. In addition, students attending Hartford Public schools are predominantly ethnic minorities (Table 1), and thus provide a rich opportunity to engage minority high school students in the Earth Sciences.

Our program grew out of the unique association of the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science (GHAMAS) and Trinity College, a small liberal arts college in Hartford. The Trinity College administration provided the impetus for the construction of GHAMAS and the two schools are located across the street from each other. GHAMAS, a magnet school that opened in 2001, draws students from Hartford and surrounding towns. Half of the students attending GHAMAS live in Hartford; the others come from the towns listed in Table 1. …

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