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InTeGrate's Model Programs that bring an Earth-focus to the Undergraduate Classroom
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This program description is part of a collection of institutional models which explore ways of bringing a geoscience-informed approach to sustainability to a diverse range of disciplines, institutions, and networks. These model programs also provide the documentation and resources necessary to help other groups implement similar programs.
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University of Illinois at Chicago - Engaging Urban Students through Geoscience Career Development in the Classroom

Stefany Sit, Kathryn Nagy, Max Berkelhammer, Caitlin Boblitt, Sarah Cadieux,
Andrew Dombard, Fabien Kenig, D'Arcy Meyer-Dombard, Roy Plotnick, Carol Stein
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences


Our program focused on creating impacts within the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UIC among 3 major groups: students, faculty, and employers/alumni. Specifically, we wanted to build on the InTeGrate framework of teaching geoscience within a socially relevant context. At our urban located and urban serving institute, we pursued this framework by highlighting urban issues and focusing on career awareness.

Program Goals:

  1. Improve student awareness of geoscientific thinking skills in areas relating geoscience to the urban environment
  2. Increase student awareness of career options in the geosciences
  3. Increase the amount of student-centered learning pedagogies employed by faculty
  4. Increase the number of geoscience-related academic activities carried out by employers in the classroom
  5. Increase the number of geoscience job and internship opportunities available from local industry

Program Motivation

As global societies increasingly stress Earth systems, geoscientists need to engage a new generation of students across all academic disciplines and all racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Rising demands for natural resources and environmental protection will require individuals who can merge geoscience with disciplines like public policy and engineering as well as contribute diverse perspectives to solving complex problems. As the U.S. population grows in ethnic and cultural diversity, it is now more important than ever to engage underrepresented groups into the geosciences. Furthermore, because 81% of the U.S. population is concentrated in cities, urban students are a rich source for recruitment of a diverse workforce.

Attracting students from urban centers requires dedicated work to introduce and explain the variety of possible careers relevant to their worldview. Whereas urban students have little exposure to natural Earth processes, they are acutely aware of the demands and effects of growing populations and human-modified environments. Chicago students, for instance, are familiar with swimming bans on Lake Michigan, flash flooding from extreme storms, and factory air pollution in minority neighborhoods. Our proposal is centered on engaging urban students by incorporating career development into an overall more urban-relevant curriculum in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Sustaining Change

Ongoing Course Revisions - Within several of our first and second year courses, we have had success with small and large scale changes to our courses. In some instances, new course activities and labs were developed specifically to fit within a course, no matter who teaches the course. In other instances, faculty have been encouraged to share some of their successful uses of current events and urban relevant topics. Since the implementation program began faculty have been able to have more formal and informal discussions about course content and student engagement. By having discussions to help identify problems, share ideas, and support each other, faculty will help continue to foster change in the classroom. We have also worked to create additional geoscience resources (links about careers, alumni advice, current events, etc.) that can be easily added to any course Blackboard site to be accessed by students. Our hope is that this is a more informal way to reach out to students and show them the broader context in which geoscience exists.

Continued Connections with our Alumni and Local Employers - Working with alumni and connecting with local employers has really energized students and faculty in the department. Through our implementation program we have been able to establish a general network of alumni and local employers. This has helped us create valuable resources that feature our alumni and share their advice with students. Faculty found it valuable and easy to invite alumni and other outside speakers into the classroom. Now that we have seen the positive impact of working with alumni, several individuals are taking the initiative to continue connections and reach out to other individuals (local employers and organizations) that can become apart of our geoscience network. As an extension to this program, we are also planning annual open house events for the department to invite current, former, and perspective students to campus.

Institutional Support - Initial work from our implementation program was also highlighted in recent discussion with the Chancellor of UIC and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. They have both visited the department and shared their opinions on the importance of undergraduate education, specifically emphasizing classroom experiences and student opportunities. The Dean has also been able to provide additional financial support to help us achieve program goals. In addition to support from UIC administration, we have been able to partner with our Office of Career Services. They have come in to talk to faculty about their services and have offered their assistance with contacting alumni and keeping an alumni directory. Staff from Career Services has also been able to come in to our undergraduate classrooms to work with students on where to find job opportunities and showcase their services.

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This program description is part of a growing collection of models of ways to bring learning about the Earth to a diverse range of disciplines, institutions, and networks, as well as provide the documentation and resources necessary to help other groups implement similar programs..
Explore the Programs »