Supporting Minority Students in Geoscience at UNO
Minority Awareness Program for Geoscience at the University of New Orleans (UNO)
The purpose of the Minority Awareness Program is to provide opportunities for minority high school students to explore Earth sciences through field study. Started in 1974, it has become the longest running program in the geosciences for recruiting minority students.
While the program initially consisted only of field trips in the geosciences for minority high school students, in 1990 the program gained additional funding and started offering scholarships to students to attend the University of New Orleans. The addition of financial support increased enrollment significantly. In more recent years, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina resulted in a need to rebuild the numbers of students in the program and adapt to changing conditions within the local high schools.
In 1974 when the program started, African American students were only about 3% of the university's student body. Up until 1990, when scholarships began to be offered as a part of the minority recruitment program, the geology department rarely had more than one African American student. Within ten years, minority students made up 40-50% of the undergraduate population in the department, which was greater than or equal to the percentage at the university as a whole. Minority students in the Earth and Environmental Sciences department at UNO are mostly African American or Hispanic students. Students are primarily from the local area and many of them are first generation college students.
Undergraduate students in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department (EES) at UNO can earn a Bachelor's of Science degree with a concentration in either Geology or Coastal and Environmental Science. One way that students are recruited into the EES Department is through the Minority Awareness Program for Geoscience.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina had a huge impact on the minority recruiting program in geoscience, as it did on the University of New Orleans in general, and the entire geographic area. The program was set back considerably with the loss of students and has been rebuilding ever since. As of spring 2013, the program is in the 4th year of a NSF grant, Minority Education through Traveling and Learning in the Sciences (METALS). In addition, it is funded by individual donors, private industry sponsors, and departmental funds. The program is making a strong comeback in recruiting and retaining students in the geosciences.
Keys to Success
- Attracting new students through annual field trips for minority high school students, recruitment within local high schools, and by keeping tuition costs down.
- Supporting majors through persistence in communications, mentoring, tutoring, and funding.
- Preparing students for careers in Geoscience by providing a broad background that will prepare them for a variety of careers, including jobs in coastal restoration where there has been strong demand in the region in recent years.
Attracting New Students
Outreach to high school students. Since Hurricane Katrina, the program has been reaching out more broadly and deeply to local high schools in an effort to attract more students and to improve the quality of students recruited. This effort is their main focus now, and involves communication with school administrators and teachers, plus on-site presentations to students. Some of these schools are new ones that didn't exist before, or existing ones that are reinventing themselves; and as an added challenge, many of the teachers have changed. The purpose of this outreach is to recruit students into the Minority Awareness Program for Geoscience and to encourage them to attend UNO. This program takes students on field trips at no cost in order to give them exposure to Earth sciences. For example, in summer 2013 the field trip location will be Northern California and Yosemite National Park.
Keeping costs down. The program has been successful in attracting students to go into the geosciences, but many have chosen to attend other colleges, particularly local and regional HBCU's. One way that UNO competes is by providing a cost effective education in comparison to these other colleges.
Supporting Our Majors
Communication and Mentoring. The director of the program and other staff and faculty at UNO have found that it helps to keep a line of communication open with their students. This enables them to encourage the students and to provide support when issues arise. Students often need help making connections in order to access needed resources. For example, students need to be aware of the funding opportunities that exist for them as minority students and the mechanisms for obtaining funds. The program uses a variety of means to communicate with students, including phone, text messages, Facebook, and email. They have found that persistence in this area has been helpful.
Tutoring. A math tutoring center helps students succeed in difficult classes like calculus. Students often face academic challenges and persistence into the second year has been a problem in recent years.
Funding. Providing financial support has made a big difference in recruitment and retention. Money is set aside specifically for scholarships for minority students. However, students sometimes do not know about these funds, or do not know how to access them, or are reticent to ask for one reason or another.
Preparing Students for CareersThe devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, coupled with prior movement of many oil and gas companies to Houston, motivated the geology department to switch its focus (and its name) to Earth and Environmental Sciences. Students can concentrate in either Geology or Coastal and Environmental Science. The coastal area has become a new source of jobs as a lot of money has been invested in Louisiana for coastal restoration. In past years, one of the biggest employers of UNO graduates is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The focus for these jobs is on minerals management, oil and gas exploration, and drilling.
- Teaching an Introductory Course over the Internet to Hurricane Katrina Victims Essay by former UNO faculty member Laura Serpa for the 2007 workshop on Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of Affective Domain in Geoscience Education part of the On the Cutting Edge project.