Recruiting Under-represented Minorities into a Geoscience Program

Mimi Fuhrman, Bosiljka Glumac, Lensyl Urbano, and Al Werner
Dilemma: Students of under-represented groups have little to no interest in the Svalbard REU program. Despite concerted recruitment efforts, members of under-represented groups often don't apply to the program. We use direct mailings (with recruitment posters) and presentations, advertisement at national meetings with minimal success. We can not seem to be able to place this paid opportunity on their "radar-screen."

The following "excuses" have been overheard or otherwise expressed:

  • My parents are against it/cultural barriers
  • What is geoscience—is that digging in the dirt
  • I need to make a lot of money
  • All the geoscience full professors are "white guys in their 50's"
  • I don't look like a geoscientist -- Geoscientists don't look/speak/act like me
  • My friends would make fun of me - rocks for jocks
  • It's a "dirty" profession
  • No prior experience with nature/mountains/ocean
  • Potential physical discomfort
  • No prestige


David McConnell and Jennifer Stempien
Solution: Putting a Face on the Geosciences

Affective Causes:
There is a perception that minority students do not become geoscience students because of:

  1. Cultural barriers that are tied to perceptions of the nature of the geosciences (e.g., "It is a dirty profession").
  2. The perceived characteristics of specific employment opportunities (no prestige, no money).
  3. The lack of minority role models in the profession and in geology departments.
  4. Lack of immediacy in current recruitment efforts.

Specific Suggestions:

  1. In addition, while some geologists spend time in the field, most of the work geoscientists do occurs in a white-collar setting. The geosciences could pitch their programs so that they adopt some of the features of engineering programs that traditionally have higher minority enrollments.
  2. The geosciences have a higher median salary than other sciences and all sciences have higher prestige than all other professions for the last decade or more (NSB, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006).
  3. Nationally, minority recruitment resources could be directed to a limited number of geoscience departments that have: a) at least one existing minority faculty member; and, b) a reasonable proportion of minority students in the general student population. Additionally, program success would be improved in situations with ongoing links to strong campus diversity programs.
  4. Departments must go beyond traditional hands-off recruitment efforts that focus on posters and handouts in classes. Instead, programs could target students with strong academic credentials and invite them and their families to visit. During the visit, departmental personnel can directly address the negative perceptions about the geosciences (see Affective Causes #1 and #2).

Recruiting Under-represented Minorities  

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