Spotlights and Stories: Improving representation and engagement of diverse individuals in introductory geoscience courses

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:40pm
Share-a-thon Part of Tuesday


Katy Sparrow, Georgia State University
Christy Visaggi, Georgia State University


We will have handouts showing a) examples of the one-page spotlight narratives that include our own alumni, b) a list of the historical and contemporary scientists and leaders we have featured, and c) the reflection questions that students are asked to answer after reading each spotlight.


"Spotlights and Stories" is a new initiative for introductory geoscience courses led by four faculty in the Department of Geosciences at Georgia State University (GSU). Through this easily adoptable intervention, we seek to engage with and recruit more students enrolled in our entry-level geology, geography, and environmental science courses. Our project was inspired by existing "spotlight" models, but we developed a geosciences-centric approach that focused on historical figures, contemporary scientists/leaders, and our own GSU Geosciences alumni. The spotlight activities are structured as one-page narratives about the individual accompanied by a set of reflection questions for students to respond to in writing. Research and content creation for the spotlights was performed by honors students completing assistantships in our department. The spotlights we have created share the stories of scientists and leaders who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, transgender, women, queer, neurodivergent, disabled, and other often excluded groups. We plan to improve and expand on this effort, do research on the effectiveness of the approach, and publish our materials for educators to use beyond GSU.


The Geosciences "Spotlights and Stories" are designed to be offered as homework or extra credit assignments in the six different introductory level science courses in our department. We are also utilizing the spotlights in life/earth science courses for elementary education majors, so that these future teachers can better connect to geosciences and have more material to draw on for their own classrooms. From the bank of spotlights, an instructor may select the most relevant individuals for their course(s). Then, the instructor can direct students to pick one or more of the selected spotlights to read and reflect on via written responses to five questions presented in a learner management system quiz.

Why It Works

At Georgia State University, a minority-serving institution in downtown Atlanta, we are well-positioned to impact geosciences instruction. Ultimately, the project's goal is to provide an intervention to introductory geoscience instructors that helps increase the representation and engagement of diverse individuals in our discipline. By learning about diverse individuals in the geosciences who are not well represented in most textbooks via "Spotlights and Stories," our aim is that more students will see themselves reflected in the field, view geosciences as relevant to their lives, consider joining geosciences major degree programs, and/or have a better understanding of how geosciences is pertinent to their major and future goals.