Supporting Minority Students at Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi
Geology Program Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi
According to U.S. Census data, approximately 60% of the population in Corpus Christi was Hispanic in 2010 (most current data available). In the Fall of that year, approximately 40% of the students enrolled at TAMUCC were Hispanics (about 4,000 students). Nearly 20% of the geology majors that year were declared Hispanics; 13 students). The numbers increased for 2011 (30%) as well as 2012 (30%; 24 of the 79 geology majors). Despite the increase, these numbers clearly show, that recruitment efforts geared towards this population group need to improve. Within our department, there are also over 170 declared Environmental Sciences majors. As with Geology, approximately 30% of these students are Hispanics.
Overall the Geology Program at TAMUCC has seen a substantial growth over the past 6 years (40% increase in enrollment). The program currently serves 85 majors and over 500 non-science majors (yearly). Part of the growth may reflect a regional increase in interest in the geosciences because of the Eagle Ford Shale "boom".
Keys to Success
- A number of TAMUCC geology majors come to us from the local community college to which our program nurtures close ties. Some of our majors are recruited from the non-science major geology core courses. High school students are invited to our campus during recruitment events held several times a year (Island Days), Science Fairs and Science Olympiad, which is hosted on our campus yearly.The Corpus Christi Geological Society has a strong presence in our community.
- Our geology majors have the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research on campus and internships in the local community.
- We regularly invite guest speakers from within the geoscience community to our campus, help place students into internships, and maintain close ties to our local Geological Society all of which allow our students a view into their potential professional future.
Attracting New Students
TAMUCC maintains an articulation agreement with Del Mar College, our local community college. This agreement allows students to transfer credits from introductory level courses (such as math, physics, chemistry, as well as introductory geology courses) completed at the college, effortlessly to TAMUCC.
In addition to this agreement, faculty from the two institutions connect regularly, which has lead to some collaborative efforts (e.g. joint field trips, guest speakers).
With three introductory geology courses embedded in the university core, our program has the opportunity to reach over 500 non-science majors or students who have not declared a major per year. The program invests heavily into making these courses attractive to this audience, e.g. by emphasizing local geology and the applicability of geology to all humans. How many students are actually recruited from these courses needs to be tracked better, but several transfers have been made (e.g. two students this past semester).
Data on how many high school students are attracted to our program through outreach efforts such as Island Days, Science fairs, or the Science Olympiad is not available at this time. Faculty make an effort to endorse the geosciences not only during these events but also when visiting local schools (all levels) regularly. In collaboration with the Corpus Christi Geological Society geology has been brought into nearly all schools in our region. Some of the projects of recent years include "Maps in Schools" (a geologic map of North America is hanging in just about every school in the county), "Boulder in School" (boulder-sized rock specimen representing the three main rock groups are set up at schools), and "Bones in Schools" (schools are provided with a poster-sized mural depicting Nueces County during the last Ice Age. Fossils from organisms such as mammoths, which lived in our area at the time, are also provided).
Supporting Our Majors
Two issues that students at our institution struggle with often are financial and academic challenges. In the sciences, we support our students in a number of ways in these areas of concern.
1. Exposure to research, which benefits them academically and in addition, boosts their marketability upon graduation. E.g.:
- McNair Scholarship program: This program prepares qualified undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities including STEM research projects. Participants are from underrepresented groups and have demonstrated strong academic potential. One of the eight McNair Scholars accepted into the program in Fall 2013 is a Hispanic geology major.
- SOAR STEM Program (a Title-V federally funded program): Students in this cohort must be both an undergraduate STEM student (College of Science & Engineering) and a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident. In addition they must be one of the following: Hispanic or other minority, low income, first generation (neither parent has a degree from a 4-year institution). Within this cohort, students can participate in "S.U.R.E."- an undergraduate research exploration program where cohort members identify a professor they want to work with and work as a researcher for a 9 month period. SOAR assists them with abstract development, presentation skills, and pay for one conference attendance in the 9-month period.
- SOAR STEM Program: In addition to "S.U.R.E." (see above), the SOAR program offers its cohort members the following benefits:
- Freshmen and students with a 2.5 GPA or lower are assigned a Peer Success Coach who assists them with college readiness through time management assistance, study skills, class scheduling, preparing for tests, understanding instructor styles and methods. Students are set up with a coach that is in their major or one close to their major.
- Lending Program: students can lend laptops, iPads, Qwizdom Clickers, calculators, and STEM textbooks for up to 2 hours on campus.
- Career Blueprint program: students work on career profiles, identifying careers that match their major and interest, grad school exploration and preparation, REU and internship exploration and preparation, and other development skills needed to be competitive. Every cohort member in this program is required to meet with SOAR staff monthly.
- Intervention Specialist: SOAR staff members meet with every cohort member monthly. During these meetings students reflect on how classes (and life in general) are going and asked if they need any further assistance. These meetings provide student the opportunity to discuss any concerns they have and help them find resources they may need to answer those concerns.
- Computer room with computers and a group study room for group study sessions.
3. Financial support
Indirect financial support for geology majors comes from programs such as the ones mentioned above. Faculty also make an effort to lend out textbooks etc. to students in need.
Scholarship opportunities are offered to our students through local organizations such as the Corpus Christi Geological Society as well as national organizations. Faculty write letters of recommendations for students regularly. Many of our students are not proactive about pursuing scholarships and need to be lead and encouraged by faculty.
Internships with the local businesses, primarily petroleum-oriented, help our students financially, but maybe more importantly, also academically. They learn to apply their knowledge from classes which makes the material much more relevant to them and often find great mentors among the employers. The geology program invites guest speakers to campus regularly as part of the Undergraduate Seminar. Many of these speakers offer internship opportunities to our students.
Preparing Students for Careers
Being an institution in the state of Texas where the petroleum industry offers employment to many of our graduates, we strive to prepare our students wishing to pursue this career path. Aside from offering electives such as Introduction to Petroleum Geology, the program faculty work hard to connect our students with local companies. Several of our graduates have been hired upon graduation by the companies they interned for. Nurturing the ties with the local Geological Society is also very beneficial to our students. Student memberships are free and during the monthly luncheons they can interact with professionals in the field.
Beginning with their freshmen year, our students are exposed to writing intensive assignments, later followed by poster and verbal presentations. In 2012, a new learning community for Geology and Environmental Sciences majors was established on our campus. As part of this learning community, students are guided not only by their science faculty, but they are also part of a seminar course where they learn to grow and improve their writing skills etc. These skills are crucial in preparing them for the workforce as well as graduate school.