Supporting Minority Students at UNAVCO
Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students (RESESS) UNAVCO
Over the past 9 years, UNAVCO has supported 44 interns through Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students (RESESS), an NSF-funded multi-year, geoscience research internship, community support, and professional development program. Upper-division students from underrepresented groups spend 11 weeks in Boulder, Colorado during the summer conducting an independent, authentic research project under the guidance of a research mentor and the support of a communications mentor. RESESS interns are also mentored and supported after the summer program, and throughout the academic year by RESESS program staff. The primary goal of the RESESS program is to increase the number of historically underrepresented students entering the geosciences. The alumni of RESESS are 55% Latino/Hispanic, 27% African American/Black, 11% Native American, and 7% Asian American. Of the 30 interns who have earned a BS or BA, 13 are enrolled in a Masters program, and 8 are currently enrolled in a doctorate program. Nine RESESS alumni are working in private industry, five of those in the geosciences.
Keys to Success
- RESESS actively recruits and attracts a broad diversity of new students from undergraduate majors within the solid earth geosciences.
- RESESS successfully supports interns after their first summer internship by providing year-round support, including graduate school application assistance, academic scholarships, funded scientific conference attendance, and ongoing mentoring.
- RESESS prepares students to enter careers by simultaneously incorporating traditional research experiences for undergraduates (REU) elements including conducting scientific research under the guidance of a science mentor as well as training to develop research and scientific communication skills and social opportunities for building community.
Attracting New Students
RESESS encourages applications from individuals who are members of a group that is historically underrepresented in the Earth sciences, including students who are Black or African American, American Indian or Native Pacific Islanders, Hispanic or Latinos, veterans, members of LGBTQ communities, and non-traditional students. RESESS interns come from a diverse range of geoscience-related majors and academic institutions across the country. Students selected as RESESS interns are recruited by a combination of RESESS staff interactions during school visits and at professional conferences, word of mouth referrals from RESESS alumni, and social media outreach centered at UNAVCO. Intern candidates with strong quantitative backgrounds in the geosciences are encouraged to submit applications through UNAVCO's online hiring portal.
Supporting Our Majors
We introduce students to scientific research, prepare students for graduate school, and provide support and encouragement as students build skills and confidence. Students experience an authentic research experience and are encouraged to consider graduate school with an eye to a career in science, whether that is in research, teaching, or industry. Students can participate for up to three years, depending on when they enter the program.
Student interns get to work closely with a geoscience expert throughout the summer on a research project. We try to match the interests of the student with a relevant project. The student might work at the University of Colorado at Boulder, at the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, CO, or at UNAVCO in Boulder. In their second or third summer, interns can work elsewhere in the U.S. with a research group at another university, government lab, or at a petroleum company.
We support our interns intensively in what is a challenging work experience. Each intern has a science mentor (or team of science mentors) who guides them on the research project and a communications mentor who works with the student on developing and polishing their science and professional communications skills. Incoming interns also have a graduate assistant mentor to help enrich their experience. Research shows that a multi-mentoring approach is important and fosters student success through providing help and encouragement.
New friendships and a strong sense of community are developed during the first days of the program, and strengthened throughout the summer. One day per week is reserved for the communications workshop and RESESS group activities such as geology field trips or workshops.
Additional Support Structures
Computing : First year RESESS interns are each issued a Macbook laptop and software, including the Microsoft Office Suite and Matlab, for their use while they are part of the RESESS program. If their research project requires additional software or statistical packages, the RESESS program funds the purchase and the UNAVCO Information Technology (IT) staff supports the installation and maintenance. Students are also provided training in how to use various programs. For example, a three-day Matlab-intensive workshop was included in the 2013 RESESS program and held early in the summer to 1) introduce students to the capabilities of the software package and to 2) build up new, or enhance existing, programming skills. Students keep the computers to use with their academic coursework and are only required to return them if they become ineligible to remain in the program.
Financial support : Each fall, the interns who participated in that year's summer experience are offered a financial scholarship to offset tuition and fees. Additionally, RESESS covers the cost of membership to either AGU or GSA; students select the professional society with which their interests most closely align. Providing funds to cover membership fees, even if they are not substantial, signals to the interns the importance of belonging to a professional community. In rare cases, RESESS has helped support students applying to graduate programs by covering the cost of application fees.
Travel : RESESS supports students attending a scientific conference to present their summer research results. The program covers abstract submission and conference registration in addition to travel expenses. Students stay in the one of the main conference hotels so they are able to more easily network with attendees and are better integrated with conference activities and meetings that might be based at the primary hotels.
GRE Preparation : The summer program includes a GRE preparation course specifically tailored to the RESESS interns and hosted at UNAVCO. All first year interns participate in the preparatory course and the RESESS program covers the cost of the GRE when students take the exam, typically the following fall.
Fully Furnished Summer Housing : Unlike typical summer REU programs, the RESESS program provides fully furnished summer housing for all interns in Boulder, and financial support for approved summer housing for off-site second and third year interns. Interns are housed in University of Colorado apartments; interns of our partner summer programs, SOARS and NEON, are also located in the same complex, leading to a broad community of support.
Preparing Students for Careers
Through a combination of professional development, financial support, mentoring support, and independent, authentic research experiences, the RESESS program has successfully supported 44 interns over the past 9 years. Our experiences support the importance of quality mentoring and authentic research experiences. The program has demonstrated that multi-faceted, multi-year support of students from historically underrepresented groups facilitates the success of alumni in graduate school and professional geoscience occupations. Emphasis on professional development in addition to development of research skills enables students to excel in diverse professional environments, and provides the students with the confidence to pursue opportunities they may not have previously considered, leading to broadened participation and engagement of well-trained geoscientists.