Engaging Undergraduates in the New York City S-SAFE Internship Program: An Impetus to Raise Geoscience Awareness

By Blake, Reginald A.; Liou-Mark, Janet et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Engaging Undergraduates in the New York City S-SAFE Internship Program: An Impetus to Raise Geoscience Awareness


Blake, Reginald A., Liou-Mark, Janet, Blackburn, Noel, Chan, Christopher, Yuen-Lau, Laura, Journal of Geoscience Education


INTRODUCTION

Better understanding of Earth as a system of interrelated subsystems is critical to meet global and regional demands for natural resources, environmental health and sustainability, and resilience to natural disasters. The connections and feedback mechanisms that link the complex systems of Earth (cryosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere) determine the nature, state, and quality of energy, soil, water, atmospheric, ecological, and coastal and oceanographic resources. The management and proper usage of these geophysical resources, in turn, govern many aspects of global livelihood-from food security, health, and climate change impacts to potential regional conflicts over scarce, diminishing, or emerging natural resources. Therefore, in the context of a sustainable Earth, integrative geoscience is a pivotal concern and need, and for the United States, it is a matter of national security.

Unfortunately, amid these grave concerns, the United States continues to struggle to fulfill its need for a highly skilled geoscience workforce, particularly one that reflects the nation's demographic makeup. Table I highlights the troubling racial and ethnic divide and disparity within the geosciences. In 2010 (when the geoscience enrollment and degrees seem to indicate some resurgence among students; American Geological Institute, 2010a), 20% of all bachelor degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) were awarded to underrepresented minorities (African American and Hispanic). However, this group garnered a little over 7% of the bachelor's degrees conferred in the geosciences (National Science Foundation, 2013). In their studies, Chan (2013) and Velasco and deVelasco (2010) extol the importance, the need, and the benefits of diversity and the awareness of racial and ethnic cultures in the development of a strong and vibrant geoscience workforce.

The U.S. geoscience enrollment and workforce problem is rooted in a formal and informal geoscience educational structure that is inadequate. The National Center for Education Statistics (2012) reported that only about 28% of high school graduates successfully received credit for completing a geology or Earth Science course. A recent, revealing press release from the American Geosciences Institute (2013a) highlights that throughout the United States, Earth and space sciences do not receive the same prominence and status as life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and technology. In establishing clear aims for the subject, the Next Generation Science Standards (2013) states that Earth and space sciences should have equal status with life sciences, physical sciences, technology, and engineering. However, the report shows that school districts and other organizations fail to assign Earth Sciences this status. Only 1 of the nation's 50 states requires a yearlong Earth or environmental science course for high school graduation, whereas 32 states require a life science course and 27 states require a physical science course, according to the report. Only 6 states require that students are taught Earth Science concepts as part of their graduation requirements. Unfortunately, this lack of emphasis on the geosciences carries over to the college level. Many colleges do not accept high school Earth Science courses because: (1) these courses do not fit the traditional definition of a laboratory course, (2) Earth Science does not have an advanced placement exam, and (3) there is a perception that Earth Science courses lack the rigor of traditional courses like biology, physics, and chemistry (American Geological Institute, 2011a).

This approach to geoscience education and to replenishing and enhancing the nation's geoscience workforce is fraught with problems. The geoscience pipeline is both leaking and clogged at the inlet and throughout. At the undergraduate level, students lack the necessary preparation and training, and institutions may lack the necessary foresight, innovation, and funding to implement creative solutions for geoscience education. …

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