Report of the Geosciences Diversity Workshop
August 2000, National Science Foundation (NSF 01-53)
The Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) convened a workshop at the National Science Foundation on August 14-15, 2000, for the purpose of developing strategies to enhance the role of underrepresented minorities (African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans/Native-Alaskans and persons with disabilities) in the geosciences. Activities to address gender issues were not discussed by the workshop since the National Science Foundation is developing a cross-directorate program, ADVANCE, to address gender equity issues. The GEO Diversity Initiative will address gender issues in the future after the ADVANCE program is established.
This workshop grew out of the finding that geosciences has an extremely low number of minorities represented at various points in the educational pathway and in careers in the geosciences. While minorities earn almost 15 percent of the total bachelor's degrees granted in science and engineering, they earn only 4.6 percent of all BS degrees in geosciences. At the master's and doctorate levels, the percentages for minorities earning degrees in geosciences are 3.3 percent and 5 percent respectively. This may be contrasted with the fact that minorities earn 10.6 percent of the total master's degrees in science and engineering and 8.2 percent of doctorate degrees in the same pool. As a group, African-American, Hispanic-Americans and Native-Americans represent only about 4.9% of employed Ph.D. scientists and engineers. These data are a few of the statistics that were presented to the workshop. The data support the lack of minority representation in science and engineering in general and in the geosciences in particular, and the need to take steps to address the problem.
The purpose of the workshop was to solicit from the community innovative ideas on what GEO could and should do to substantially impact the aspirations, accomplishments, and visibility of underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in all sectors of the geosciences community. The workshop participants have broad backgrounds in education and research, including considerable experience in developing and managing diversity-enhancing activities. Additional input from the community was requested via e-mail, with over 40 responses, which were read by workshop participants.
The background material for the workshop included a summary of statistical information of minority participation in the geosciences at various educational and professional levels. A review and discussion of diversity-enhancing activities by other funding agencies, professional societies, and the various NSF directorates was also part of the workshop. A portion of the workshop focused on on-going successful programs that address diversity in the geosciences.
The primary purpose of the workshop discussions was:  to determine the obstacles that arise in attracting minority students to the geosciences, as well as discussing possible strategies for circumventing these obstacles;  to determine the characteristics of successful programs for recruiting and retaining minority students and professionals in the geosciences;  to provide advice to the Directorate for Geosciences on short-term and long-term goals, strategies, and actions needed to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities at all levels of the geoscience community.
The workshop recommendations are:
RECOMMENDATION NO. 1
The Directorate for Geosciences should proceed with the development and implementation of a Geosciences Diversity Initiative with the following goals:
- Increase participation in geosciences education and research by members of groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in geoscience disciplines.
- Enhance the understanding of the geosciences and their contribution to modern society by a broad and diverse segment of the American population.
Short-term (within 5 years) goals:
- Foster development of a community of individuals dedicated to improving diversity in the geosciences, to include faculty, students, administrators, professional organizations, private foundations, other government agencies and industry partners.
- Increase opportunities for geosciences research experiences for students, undergraduate and graduate, from underrepresented groups.
- Foster educational and research partnerships/collaborations/exchanges between and among the following: minority serving institutions, traditional majority serving institutions (i.e. two and four-year colleges, universities) research centers, professional and industrial organizations.
- Facilitate the establishment/development/enhancement of educational and research capabilities in minority serving institutions.
- Foster programs and environments that increase cultural competencies for all. Cultural competence is defined as the ability to relate and communicate effectively when individuals involved in the interaction do not share the same culture, ethnicity, language or other salient variables.
RECOMMENDATION NO. 2
A central theme of the workshop's recommendations is that experience with various approaches to increasing diversity in geosciences and the appreciation of geosciences by diverse groups requires a diversity of strategies and programs. Among these are:
- Development of geosciences research opportunities that increase exposure, interest, choice, preparation, and performance of students, faculty, and research scientists. Examples include field experiences (cultivation of relevant skills) and faculty or student exchanges between partnering institutions.
- Development of geosciences teaching opportunities that increase exposure, interest, choice, preparation, and performance of students, faculty, and research scientists. Examples include adjunct or visiting professorships, distance learning opportunities and lecture series.
- Development of geoscience collaborations that link programs, students, and mentors both horizontally and vertically.
- Creation of opportunities for programs/projects to be led by an individual who has a full time commitment and who is rewarded and not marginalized in his/her professional development.
- The development and distribution of media that portray persons from underrepresented communities in geosciences related fields.
- Development of ways to embed into the core missions of the host institutions the values, priorities, and procedures of short-term externally funded intervention programs that enhance diversity. Evidence that this has occurred includes:
- commitment of institutional funds, facilities and personnel time;
- buy-in of the professional staff to value diversity as a contribution to better decision-making, breadth of research questions asked, and other positive values; and
- consideration of diversity-enhancing activities in promotion, tenure, and hiring.
- Building and rewarding leadership. Successful programs are characteristically built around the commitment, dedication, and personal energy of key individuals. This observation suggests two issues:
- How can NSF maintain this commitment, dedication, and personal energy over decades? Networking and rewards for leaders are key components.
- How does one pass leadership to a new generation of people? How does NSF recruit and apprentice new leaders, both to take on the leadership of current activities and to develop new activities at other institutions?
- Long-term assessment of the impact of diversity-enhancing activities. This effort requires consistent gathering of statistical information over decades-long intervals and the longitudinal tracking of the alumni from diversity-enhancing activities from middle school to mid-career.
RECOMMENDATION NO. 3
The Geosciences Diversity Initiative should be based on the development of new and innovative activities, as well as the improvement and refinement of existing activities, that generally have the following characteristics:
- There should be a long-term commitment, both financial and institutional, to sustaining the activity and maintaining excellence.
- Activities should be interdisciplinary in nature as a means to attract talent from various disciplines and to show how these disciplines intersect within the geosciences.
- Programs should be comprehensive and multi-faceted, and include structured social activities. A critical mass of people is needed to avoid the feelings of isolation. There is often a need for esteem-building activities.
- Leaders should create a sense of community within the group and create ties to the communities from which the students come. There are often advantages in identifying, exploring, and linking cultural heritage contributions to science.
- Programs should offer multiple-year participation by the students.
- There should be effective use of role models, mentors, and near-peer mentors.
- Financial support for mentors is crucial in attracting high-quality mentors and in sustaining their involvement.
- Programs should include bona fide research projects that include the key elements of hypothesis development, experimental design, execution and analysis of project, and writing and presentation of results.
- Activities should include step-wise approaches in a logical sequence for advancement to different levels.
- There should be an emphasis on critical thinking and creativity in all activities.
- Projects need ongoing evaluation while in progress in order to facilitate improvements. It is critical to be flexible and responsive to changing needs.
- It is critical that individual programs have links to other nodes within the scientific community.
- In order to maintain momentum and continuity, it is important that programs have year round aspects and connect to other programs.
RECOMMENDATION NO. 4
These activities should occur at various educational and professional levels:
- Pre College - The objective for activities at this level is principally to broaden exposure to the geosciences for students and communities. Geosciences promotes interdisciplinary work, which supports science education objectives. Target audiences include students, teachers (e.g. in-service professional development in geosciences), and administrators to explain the value of the geosciences curriculum.
- Undergraduate - The objectives for activities at this level include retaining minority undergraduates in geosciences, encouraging greater participation by minorities in geosciences and broadening undergraduate science literacy in geosciences. Target audiences include two-year and four-year institutions, including minority serving institutions (MSIs). Activities include:
- research opportunities at major research institutions;
- research collaboration between two-year institutions or MSIs with research intensive institutions;
- curriculum development at MSIs at the core curriculum, minor, or program levels;
- undergraduate research support at MSIs and two-year institutions;
- enhancement of the pre-service geosciences curriculum for teachers; and
- encouraging the involvement of geoscience researchers at MSI's as adjunct or visiting faculty.
Attendance at professional conferences, and participation at the appropriate level, should be stressed since this provides a valuable opportunity for networking and is a major factor in retaining minority undergraduates in the field.
- Graduate - The objective for activities at this level is to build a community of well-networked students from underrepresented groups in the geosciences. Examples include professional societies sponsoring networking conferences for minority geoscience students and the development of new types of research and employment opportunities for minority students at the end of their undergraduate careers to enable them to have a year-long, first-rate research experience prior to graduate school.
- Professional community - The objectives for activities at this level include raising awareness of issues about minority participation in geosciences and helping geoscience departments broaden their participant base. Examples include mentorship training, promulgation of successful models, workshops for non-MSI GEO faculty by MSI faculty to help them work with diverse populations.
- Informal Science Education - The objective is to capitalize on the resources of museums, aquaria and other such institutions as tools for outreach by the geosciences into minority communities.
RECOMMENDATION NO. 5
It is important to assess the effectiveness of ongoing and newly developed programs:
- Methods to assess program effectiveness must be included in program description and budget, and should include at a minimum:
- obtaining and maintaining information on individuals participating in the program;
- documenting the number/type/quality of research experiences;
- evaluation by participants and mentors; and
- follow-up/tracking of participants.
The workshop recommendations also include the following:
- There is a need to articulate the full range of professional activities that are included within the broad field of geosciences.
- The Geosciences Diversity Initiative should be broad enough to encompass a range of types of projects from individual PI efforts to individual organization to multi-institutional to multi-state efforts.
- Undergraduate and graduate students should be included as participants in research and planning workshops in the geosciences.
- Efforts should be made by the Directorate for Geosciences to involve geoscience employers, state and federal governments, tribal organizations, foundations, and industry in internships and mentoring relationships.
- The Directorate for Geosciences should develop the capability to take advantage of a mix of real world experiences (field trips and research cruises) and virtual experiences via web-based learning. This might be a very effective means for participation of persons with disabilities.
- The Directorate for Geosciences should take a leadership role in developing technologies to assist persons with disabilities. An example would be working with professional societies to develop sign language symbols for geosciences terms. Furthermore, geoscience facilities should be enhanced/developed to accommodate persons with disabilities.
- A plan should be developed to share the results of individual diversity-enhancing projects with the geosciences community (e.g. articles, posters, and presentations at society meetings). This plan should be developed in collaboration with individuals in target groups to increase public awareness of geosciences.
- Fastlane is currently a barrier to participation in NSF activities for many non-research-intensive institutions. If Fastlane use is required for submission of proposals, specialized training and support should be offered.
- Efforts should be made to partner with other NSF Directorates, Education and Human Resources in particular, to facilitate common interests in enhancing diversity.
- In developing a diversity initiative, GEO should be encouraged to consider funding research (perhaps jointly with another directorate) on why students from underrepresented groups are not participating in the geosciences and science in general. Such a study could potentially examine what has attracted some students from underrepresented groups to the geosciences as a career. Information derived from this research would be useful in decisions on future directions in the GEO diversity initiative.
- Majority institutions that exist within communities with demographics that contain significant proportions of persons underrepresented in geosciences should be encouraged to be active participants in this process.
The Geoscience Diversity Workshop participants were:
Isaac Crumbly, Fort Valley State University
Ben Cuker, Hampton University
John Farrington, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Matt Gilligan, Savannah State University
Judy Gobert, Salish Kootenai College
Frank Hall, University of New Orleans
Michael Howell, University of South Carolina
Emi Ito, University of Minnesota
Everette Joseph, Howard University
Kim Kastens, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ramon Lopez, University of Texas at El Paso
Sally Goetz Shuler, National Science Resources Center
John Snow, University of Oklahoma
Judith Vergun, University of Oregon
Tom Windham, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Cynthia Winston, Howard University
Geoscience Diversity Workshop convenors were:
Jewel Prendeville, National Science Foundation
Don Elthon, University of Houston