Initial Publication Date: June 10, 2016

Responding to the National Mandate

Broadening participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines is a national imperative. The competitiveness, health and economic well-being of the United States is dependent on developing a STEM-capable citizenry, a STEM-proficient workforce, and future STEM experts. In addition, the grand challenges that face humanity to live responsibly and sustainably on planet Earth require training of a new generation of Earth scientists to engage issues of geohazards, resource development, environmental remediation and topical issues such as climate change and water security. As a nation, we must provide access, training and support for ALL students, from underrepresented minorities and for women, to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines. We simply cannot afford to disenfranchise the human resources provided by these diverse groups. To address this challenge, a systemic effort is needed that will include federal agencies, K-12 and institutions of higher education, professional societies, and individual STEM workers to engage and support the development of a diverse workforce for the future. The need is well-established. The path forward is clear. Now is the time to rededicate institutions and professions to meet the challenge of increasing diversity in the STEM disciplines.

In the Geoscience Education: A Recommended Strategy (1997; NSF 97-171) report, the Geoscience Education Working Group recommended:

GEO should continue to recognize the problem of underrepresentation of minorities and women in the geosciences and should increase its efforts to correct this problem by encouraging participation of people from these groups in all of its programs.

The subsequent NSF report, Strategy for Developing a Program for Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (NSF 01-53) , identified the primary goal of the program:

to increase participation in geosciences education and research by members of groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in geoscience disciplines.

An important but secondary goal arises from the primary goal:

to enhance the understanding of the geosciences and their contribution to modern society by a broad and diverse segment of the population.

However, O'Connell and Holmes (2015), Obstacles to the recruitment of minorities into the geosciences: A Call to action report:

"In 2008, >85,000 Hispanic, Black (U.S. National Science Foundation [NSF] term), and American Indian/Native Alaskan students, collectively called underrepresented minorities, received bachelor degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Of that number, only 192 Hispanic, 89 Black, and 28 American Indian/Native Alaskan students (NSF, 2010; Fig. 1) earned degrees in geoscience. Between 2000 and 2008, underrepresented minorities earned 16%–17% of STEM degrees and only 5%–7% of geoscience degrees."

After 20 years, the geosciences have not made much progress (see AGI Currents brief: Minority Participation in University Programs). The goals have been set. The opportunities have been identified. The need is immediate and urgent. We have a lot of work to do.

Essential Federal Reports on Broadening Participation in STEM

The following are some key reports that have identified the problem, and have begun to chart strategies and approaches to broadening participation in STEM:

Reports on Diversity in the Geosciences