Supporting Minority Students in Geoscience at NCA&T
Information for this profile comes from an interview with Solomon Bililign, Professor of Physics at North Carolina A&T and Director of NOAA-ISET Center, 2012. You can get additional information on NOAA-ISET at the Center's website.
NOAA-ISET Cooperative Science Center
As a NOAA Educational Partnership Program Cooperative Science Center, the ISET Cooperative Science Center provides opportunities for underrepresented students to study in NOAA-related sciences. NCA&T is the lead institution in a team of 5 minority-serving institutions (California State University-Fresno, The City College of the City University of New York, Fisk University, University of Alaska Southeast, and NCA&T) and 2 major universities (University of Minnesota, NC State University). ISET was one of five such centers established by NOAA's EPP to advance collaboration in NOAA-related sciences.
NOAA-ISET Grant. Funding for this six-year program included $2.5 million per year, of which 60% was spent at North Carolina A&T.
Among the five goals of the Cooperative Science Centers program, is to "Impact NOAA and national Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce statistics by increasing the number of graduates from underrepresented communities in NOAA sciences." - NOAA web site
Degree Programs and Undergraduate Research. As result of receiving the NOAA-ISET grant, the university established a Bachelor's of Science in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, which included hiring four tenure track faculty. The ISET program also helped establish a doctorate program in Energy and Environmental Systems, which was previously only offered at the bachelor's level. Students at all levels are encouraged and funded to participate in research experiences at NCA&T, the partnering institutions, and national laboratories doing research in related fields.
Keys to Success
- Attracting new students by marketing the program and outreach to schools and teachers, especially through a summer camp for high-school Earth Science teachers which contributes significantly to the statewide advertising for NCA&T's geoscience degree programs.
- Supporting majors through tuition scholarships, opportunities for research nationally and internationally, academic support, small class sizes, and peer mentoring.
- Preparing students for careers in Geoscience by a combination of coursework, research, and contact with scientists from partnering institutions in the geoscience fields.
Attracting New Students
Student participation. The B.S. degree in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology started in 2008 and will have the first 3 graduates in May 2013. Currently there are 8 or 9 students in the program at different levels, and an additional eleven students were admitted for the 2012-13 school year, of whom 6 joined the program in fall 2012. Over 90% of the students in geosciences are minorities, which mirrors the university's demographics. The university hopes to have at least 10 or 15 students enrolled per year in order to meet the class size requirements for maintaining faculty positions.
Marketing and Outreach. The program employs a geoscience education specialist who travels to high schools in North Carolina and works with Earth Science teachers. Earth Science is a required course in North Carolina, and one way to reach prospective students is through referrals by their teachers.
Summer Camp for Earth Science Teachers. Since 2004, Earth Science teachers from across the entire state have been invited to the campus of North Carolina A&T for a summer camp on teaching geoscience (with funding from NOAA and NSF). This is a week-long, all-day workshop with meals provided, a stipend, and gas costs if travel is greater than 50 miles. Teachers get teaching credits from the school system for attending. These summer workshops are aligned with the needs of the teachers and the state standards in Earth Science. The number of attendees depends upon funding, and has ranged from 20 to 60 per year, with a few repeating when the content changes. It is believed that almost all teachers in the 11 counties have been reached through this program
Participation in National Societies and Conferences. The university is listed in the American Meteorological Society (AMS) database of schools offering related degrees. Representatives attend and give presentations relating to geosciences at national meetings; for example, at the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Black Chemists.
Funding.Tuition support is provided to incoming freshmen if they have a 3.0 GPA and maintain that GPA. This funding helps to both attract and retain students.
Supporting Our Majors
Academic support. The university provides a high level of academic support through its Office of Student Success. This office has a formal mentoring and tutoring program. The departments also have tutoring programs for introductory classes. Beyond what is provided by the university, the Physics department and NOAA-ISET program mainly focus academic support efforts on assisting students at the freshmen level because the first year is when they tend to lose students. The geoscience education specialist works closely with these students, and tries to meet once a week or once a month to discuss their progress and to address any issues or problems they may have.
Small Class Sizes. A low student-to-teacher ratio helps students to thrive in the program academically and to feel connected to the learning community.
Peer Mentoring. In addition to meeting regularly with the geoscience education specialist, the program also connects younger students with seniors and graduate students who provide peer mentoring.
Undergraduate Research. One of the stellar components of the program is its commitment to providing research opportunities for undergraduates. Faculty members who are part of the NOAA-ISET program are required to have undergraduates as well as graduates working in their lab. Usually they have 40 to 45 students conducting research over the summer at either the Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) in Boulder, Colorado or at the National Climactic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. In order for students to go to these labs for research experiences, there must be a connection between a faculty member at North Carolina A&T and the NOAA scientist with whom the students are working. This helps to provide continuity when they return to campus. Students have also conducted research internationally, including in South Africa and Ethiopia. Recently, the program submitted a proposal for an NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT).
Funding. Students are provided with scholarships for tuition and undergraduate research if they maintain a 3.0 GPA and commit to research with participating faculty. This funding is an essential component of the program. The last year of the NOAA-ISET grant was in 2012, but additional funding is being sought through the National Science Foundation. Funding for the B.S. in Atmospheric Science and Meteorology has been institutionalized through the four tenure track faculty that were hired.
Preparing Students for Careers
Curricular design. At the undergraduate level, the B.S. in Atmospheric Science and Meteorology prepares students for a number of different career tracks, including graduate school and meteorologist. Specific coursework that helps students prepare for careers include senior projects, undergraduate research courses, and a seminar course wherein speakers are brought in from across the country.
Undergraduate Research. Assuring that all students have an opportunity to conduct undergraduate research is one of the main ways that students are prepared for careers in the geosciences.