Supporting Minority Students in Geoscience at JSU
Information for this profile comes from the Jackson State University website and an interview with Quinton Williams, Professor of Physics and former Department Head, on July 24, 2013.
Jackson State University is a Historically Black University with an enrollment of around 9000 students. About 95% of their enrollment is African-American with almost all of the remainder being Caucasian. The Department of Physics, Atmospheric Science, and Geoscience offers BS degrees in Physics, Meteorology, and Earth System Science.
Keys to Success
- Attracting new students to the program through partnering with their alumni association as well as Penn State, and thinking outside traditional recruitment strategies.
- Supporting majors through creating a nurturing environment in their department and investing time in recognizing the gaps that their students come in with.
- Preparing students for careers by making it a departmental expectation that they will pursue research and internship experiences and helping them get them.
Attracting New Students
Partnering with their national Alumni Association. Representatives are constantly out meeting with alumni across the country and are a great way of spreading the word about the programs. Alumni who are parents often want their children to attend JSU like they did but they often don't know much about the geosciences or the career opportunities that are available with a geoscience degree. This partnership raises the profile of the department and the available degree options. Up to this point, most of the student who have come to major in the department have come via this pathway.
Partnership with Penn State University. This partnership creates an incentive for students to continue their studies in geoscience. Through the partnership, graduates from Jackson State's Earth System Science program are eligible to receive scholarships to continue their master's and doctoral studies at Penn State. The program started in the fall of 2008, when JSU started offering a BS degree program in Earth System Science. Jackson State is the only Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the nation that offers this degree program. The partnership is supported by NSF's OEDG program, which seeks to increase the number of African Americans and other minorities in geoscience careers.
Thinking outside traditional recruitment strategies. Sometimes you have to get creative to attract students. Several examples of this include:
- playing host to a regional high school science fair involving some 2000 students and giving a prize for the top geoscience project.
- running a Weather Camp or other geoscience camp for high school students as a part of JSU's Summer Camp Program.
- talking to the incoming freshmen during Band Camp and getting them to recommend the brightest couple of students that were a year behind them in high school and then getting in touch with all of them to tell them about the geoscience programs.
Supporting Our Majors
Nurturing environment. The mission of the department and the university in general includes cultivating a nurturing environment to help students excel. This involves a lot of one-on-one mentoring by faculty and helping engender a sense of belonging among the students in the department.
Recognizing the Gaps. University-wide, approximately 80% of students need to take one, two, or three developmental courses to compensate for a lack of preparation in math, reading, or English. The high level of faculty involvement with students in the department allows the faculty to more readily assess any gaps in the students' preparation and then develop a plan to deal with them. In general, the Physics students come in better prepared because they tend to have experience with what physics entails. Students coming into the Meteorology program sometimes seem surprised at the rigor of the program, given that it is a degree aimed at producing professional, rather than broadcast, meteorologists. The Earth System Science program was developed in 2007 and its numbers are currently small, so trends in this area are not yet visible.
Preparing Students for New Careers
Getting real-world experience is an expectation. The department has developed a culture in which students are expected to get involved in internships, enrichment programs, and research experiences as a part of their progress towards a degree. During the school year, they are expected to work in the Weather Lab or work with faculty on research projects. Every fall, all the majors gather for a seminar where everyone shares the work that they did over the summer. This helps instill the importance of these experiences in the new students and sets the bar high for the whole department. Making sure that students are able to find and get these experiences also comes back to spending time one-on-one with them and being available as mentors for them.