Initial Publication Date: June 10, 2016

The Role of Education Researchers in Broadening Participation in the Geosciences

Participants of the 2015 Focus Group for Education Researchers were asked to respond to:

  • What are the gaps in the existing research related to recruitment/retention of students that are URM in the geosciences? (ex. longitudinal studies of recruitment/retention, studies of culturally-responsive curriculum, meta-analysis of successful programs, etc.)
  • What are the barriers to doing trustworthy and culturally-appropriate research with 2YCs/MSIs and URM students?

Participants identified several research-based, successful classroom strategies. From a curricular perspective, activities that are culturally, locally, or societally relevant have strong evidence that they are successful approaches. Additionally, hands-on, active learning approaches and service learning within communities have been shown to promote student success. The classroom environment was also discussed as important for promoting student success in the classroom.

Beyond the individual classroom, it is important to consider ways to support the whole student. Working with students using a collectivist cultural framing can bridge the divide between their personal cultural traditions and those of the culture of science. Geology faculty need to educate themselves on implicit bias, stereotype threat, and cultural and religious practices of different groups to promote a positive environment for all students. Specifically, faculty need to challenge students without enacting the "sink-or-swim" mentality. Training should reflect the collaborative nature of science. Consider moving away from a deficit model of underrepresented students that focuses on lacking academic skills as they are likely rooted in the students' prior institutional academic opportunities, rather than in individual cognitive deficit. Instead, focusing on an asset perspective of participation from a diverse talent pool to meet workforce needs in a profession that services the public good will benefit all students in considering multiple career pathways for the geosciences. (Read more about supporting the whole student, from InTeGrate.)

Participants identified a variety of study designs, methods, and metrics that are appropriate for researchingsuccessful strategies for broadening participation in the geosciences. The research community needs literature reviews to understand what components of programs have been successful and to identify how best to scale up particular aspects of those programs. This would facilitate the community in determining what aspect and intensity of a program's treatment is critical for success and to evaluate the costs and benefits of various program interventions and their outcomes. To make progress as a community, successful attributes of programs must be scaled up and implemented using randomized control trials, which are the gold standard in education research. The participants gathered a list of theoretical frameworks that have been applied to research on underrepresentation in STEM, such as critical race theory, transfer shock, stereotype threat, and intersectionality (Geo-Needs Meeting Report Appendix D (Acrobat (PDF) 37kB Jun7 16)). Helping the geoscience education research community utilize and implement theoretical frameworks in their broadening participation research is critical.

If faculty efforts in promoting community and diversity are not rewarded for tenure and promotion, the change will continue to happen slowly.

One barrierto researching diversity in the geosciences is the way data are gathered. Data on completion rates are only available at four-year college/universities. Many 2YCs do not have specific programs, so tracking students is problematic. When data is gathered, it is not always publicly available. To understand barriers to participation, it would be helpful to study students who leave the geosciences along their pathway; there is limited data on these students.

Since minority-serving institutions (MSIs) have higher minority student recruitment, retention, and matriculation rates than majority institutions, doing culturally-appropriate research is of utmost importance. Building trust between majority, four-year college/universities, and 2YCs and MSIs is critical to doing quality research. Collaborations should demonstrate respect for each other as equal partners in working toward solutions. URM students are busy, over scheduled, and often selected to be representatives on committees due to their status. Researchers should be mindful of this burden and respectful of participants' time. There are successful programs that have not yet been studied from a research perspective, and building trust and confidence between education researchers and geoscientists who want to improve their programs can be beneficial to both communities.

Participants acknowledge that although faculty have done wonderful work in creating and running successful programs, partnerships with social scientists who study recruitment and retention in higher education would support quality scholarship.

Additional strategies for broadening participation in the geosciences are:

  • Promote successful strategies to geoscience departments through white papers and/or an invited speaker series.
  • Raise the profile of geoscience education research (GER) as a scholarly effort worthy of tenure and promotion. Prestigious institutions should take leadership in recognizing the merit of this type of scholarship.
  • Partnerships between geoscience faculty with successful programs and social scientists who can study what works using appropriate research methods is essential.
  • Collaborations between MSIs and 2YCs and 4YCs should be equal partnerships that recognize the opportunities and constraints of both institutional structures and identify ways to improve recruitment and retention. (Read more about Building 2YC/4YC Collaborations, from SAGE.)
  • Developing standardized metrics and instruments that can be used across the community to document change in participation would facilitate rapid accumulation of research on recruitment and retention.
  • Publishing in science education journals outside the discipline may help the community contribute to and learn from successful strategies used in other STEM fields with similar problems of underrepresentation.