Supporting Minority Students in Geoscience at GVSU
Information for this profile comes from the Grand Valley State University website and an interview with Steve Mattox on November 26th, 2013. You can get additional information about geology at Grand Valley State University on the Grand Valley State University website.
The program aims to create a high quality geology course for high schools across Michigan with the intent of increasing the number and diversity of students in geology majors at the university level. To do this, high school teachers offer an approved course and administer a university-level exam at the end of the year. Students then can receive college credit at 11 colleges and universities for the course if they choose to do so.
This program has been underway for around 10 years. It began as a partnership between Steve Mattox at Grand Valley State University and one high school teacher, a Grand Valley State University graduate, Chris Bolhuis. Chris approached Steve looking for a way to allow his students to earn college credit for the course Chris was teaching. Steve developed an exam for use at the end of the school year to ensure the high school students were learning the depth and breadth of material necessary to earn the credit. This partnership then expanded to other teachers at other high schools. Steve now actively looks for other teachers who are qualified to teach this course (they must have a bachelor's degree in geology and a master's degree in science education, geology, or some other graduate degree). Steve also has expanded the partnership to include other institutions such as Michigan Technological University, Hope College and 9 other Michigan institutions. There will be 15 high schools administering the test by the time the NSF grant period ends in summer 2015 and about half of those schools will have diverse student populations.
Keys to Success
- Attracting new students to the program through offering college credit for a high school course.
- Supporting majors through making it apparent that there are local jobs available for graduates.
- Preparing students for careers by offering graduate school preparatory work and courses on the oil and gas industry.
Attracting New Students
By providing college credit for a high school course, students enter college with an increased knowledge of geology content, skills and career information and naturally are driven to take more geology courses.
Through this opportunity, we are beginning to see an increase in students who are 1st generation college students, transfer students from 2-year colleges, and students from rural areas of Michigan in the geology department. We hope that as the program expands, we will also see an increase in other minority students.
Supporting Our Majors
The increase in students who are from local communities and who wish to move back to those communities has been in part due to the success of graduates returning to the local community with jobs. In high school, the students had great mentoring about local careers in the field from their teachers and see role models in other recent graduates obtaining environmental jobs in the community. When they enter the geology department at the university level, they continue to see that graduates get jobs that allow them to return to their communities. They choose geology in part for the job and also in part because they have had positive experiences through their high school course work.
We support our majors in learning more about potential local jobs they can get when they graduate by offering panels with recent graduates. In the panels, recent graduates talk about the job they have, what they do, how they got into the job, what additional education they received, where they live, etc. Through these panels, students learn more about possible careers and how they might obtain them. Many of our panelists live relatively nearby the college, so students have an opportunity to learn where they may live and what they might do when they finish their degree.
Even though this program targets honors level high school students, as the program expands, we are brining in a wider range of students to the universities. Some incoming students do need support for basic skills and they typically find what they need with the available on-campus resources.
Preparing Students for New Careers
We've had some success in tracking students through their college careers and beyond, particularly those that from areas local to the Grand Valley State University campus and those who come from schools that have been involved in the program the longest. We are seeing that many students do major in geology after completing the high school honors course and typically are then attending graduate school in geology as well. We have not had the same success just yet in tracking students from other areas or who attend other universities and colleges.
Since we know that many of our students in the department, including those who come through the program, do attend graduate school, helping students prepare for earning advanced degrees is part of our curriculum.
Courses that prepare students for these careers
Students who do not attend graduate school tend to pursue jobs in environmental or oil and gas industries. As such, we began offering elective courses that teaches the skills and information needed to be successful in these fields. Our petroleum geology course will likely become part of the standard curriculum since the industry is growing. Our sedimentation and stratigraphy course also prepares students for what they need to be successful in an entry level job in the oil and gas industry.
Once the teachers have agreed to teach the course, there are still hurdles to overcome. At schools, there is pressure from other teachers to not offer too many honors level courses as the number of students who can take those courses is limited; adding new courses does draw down enrollment in existing courses. At the administrative level, adding a new course means having to pay a teacher to teach that course. Additionally, there are materials that are needed to teach the course and many districts do not have funds available to meet this need. To overcome some of this challenge, we have developed a way to get all the supplies needed for the course for as little as $500 and we supply this information to teachers once they decide they would like to teach the course.
We try very hard to support the teachers once they have agreed to teach the course. We provide summer professional development for teachers who are teaching the course, we provide teaching materials through Google Docs and we help support them in taking students on field trips. We try to provide a network for the implementing teachers to use to support and assist one another in teaching the course.