Initial Publication Date: November 16, 2016

Improving Programs

Part of the InTeGrate Claflin University Program Model

Program motivation

Claflin University (CU) is a fairly small HBCU located in a predominantly rural area of the Southeastern U.S. The University plays an important role in the community, having served as a leader in initiating and conducting environmental activities (recycling efforts, learning, research, service, administrative operations) in past years. It has affirmed its commitment to grow, lead, innovate, and inspire other HBCUs and foster a community that sustains environmentally responsive practices.

Still, even within the University, students' interest in and knowledge of Earth Sciences has been limited. The Environmental Science major struggles to attract and retain its students. While the Biology major has one of the largest student body at CU, students' career plans rarely include areas related to sustainability. Most importantly, students majoring in non-STEM fields have almost no exposure to Earth Science content except for a few Geography electives.

Therefore, the major problem this project aimed to address was little or lack of exposure to Earth Sciences content that has inevitably lead to almost no interest in sustainability related careers among minority students already severely underrepresented in these fields.

The importance of this work is expected to be felt in the long run at the community level. Students attending HBCUs usually come from predominantly rural and economically challenged areas, being usually exposed to their final career choice during their undergraduate studies (Malhotra and Vlahovic 2011). Considering that the percentage of underrepresented minority geosciences graduates is still far below all national benchmarks (AGI 2010), this is the time and place to promote, encourage, and support minority students in considering and embracing a career in geosciences or related fields. The knowledge and tools used by the geosciences today have the potential to produce significant socioeconomic and cultural restructuring. Students attending HBCUs should receive adequate training not only to enter successful careers, but also to take back and apply the newly acquired knowledge and skills into their communities. Such an approach would help mitigate some of the difficulties these communities have in adapting to climate variability. These students can then serve as local environmental leaders and emergency managers if and when the situation arises.


The InTeGrate project implementation only started during Spring 2016 so we are still going through the piloting phase. Still, in addition to the planned course infusion and team building we managed to make additional significant steps despite the short amount of time, namely:

  1. Integrate Sustainability initiatives through the Sustainability Committee;
  2. Link nine faculty from the School of Natural Sciences & Mathematics and School of Social Sciences (including three members with administrative roles) and enhance their collaboration;
  3. Incorporate InTeGrate project's goals into Claflin University's Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) (Lily Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiatives) that focuses on curriculum reform to include student experiential learning and cross-departmental faculty engagement in curriculum review and restructuring. During CU's September 2016 faculty meeting our faculty voted overwhelmingly to make experiential learning a degree completion requirement for all undergraduate students beginning with the freshman class of 2017. This is the most significant step in the institutionalization of the InTeGrate model by embedding a combination of classroom studies with out-of-classroom, hands-on activities throughout the formal curricula.
  4. Offer 8 hours of student training in hazard mitigation (details under Goal 3).
We are presenting below a few outcomes and strategies that have been used to achieve them:
  • Outcome: Faculty from 9 different disciplines (STEM and non-STEM) came together to help promote Earth Sciences and increase the number of students exposed to the field.
    Strategy used: individual discussions between team lead and selected faculty; chair and dean approvals; presenting the last four workshops as faculty development opportunities.
  • Outcome: The University was more proactive in Sustainability related initiatives at the institutional and community level (President signed Climate Commitment; first year when CU organized the community event "Earth Day" and read the Climate Change proclamation; first year when the Sustainability Committee organized "Year In Move Out" end of the year recycling initiative, etc.). Here is an article on this event and a Claflin Sustainability Facebook page
    Strategy used: Bringing the chair and one member of the Sustainability Committee to the faculty group 'social media buzz'.
  • Outcome: The faculty team received support from several university related initiatives to support implementation and institutionalization of the proposed training.
    Strategy used: Team lead is a member of the Faculty Development Committee that functions under Office of Academic Programs; two team members are involved with UNCF-Lily-Foundation university initiatives and two are members and instructors for the Freshman Academy.
  • Outcome: CU listed for the first time in the Princeton Review's Guide to 361 Green Colleges (page 53). InTeGrate contributed significantly to CU receiving recognition because of its increase in the % of students that took a sustainability related course, one of the required variables.
    Strategy: the Sustainability committee put together the report and submitted an application.

Program-Level Goals and Evidence

Goal 1: Increase Earth literacy among underrepresented minority undergraduates at CU

During the implementation phase undergraduate majors in Biology, Environmental Science, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Criminal Justice, Business and other disciplines (taking the General Education course in World Geography) as well as incoming Freshman enrolled in one section of UNIV 101 have completed a two-week long Earth literacy and analytical framework module as part of their regular semester schedule using InTeGrate materials and place-specific case studies involving vulnerable communities, their responses to human or naturally induced hazards, and their adaptive capacity. The infused classes were at 100 or 200 level with 138 traditional students and 7 students enrolled in the Business Communication online course. The materials were selected from the InTeGrate module "Map Your hazards" and partially adapted by the team of nine faculty involved in the project (who also taught the courses). Pre- and post-survey results have shown an increase of 12% in students's knowledge of Earth Sciences content.

Goals 1& 2 evidence from student data (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 60kB Oct18 16)

Goal 2: Equip minority students with basic interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to enable professional responses to community issues related to climate change

As part of the infusion students had to conduct team work on a mapping hazards in South Carolina project and orally communicate their findings at the end of the infusion. They were tested on content knowledge on a pre- and post-survey completed by 78.12% of students, as well as on a number of additional assignments (e.g. video quiz, map assessment, etc.). The two-week infusion grade counted as 20% of the semester final grade for each course as stated in the course syllabus. Failing this section placed students in great danger of failing the entire course. Below is an overview of students' performance.

  • At 200 level courses students performed very well, 86% and 72.8% of all grades in natural sciences, respectively social sciences resulting in As (in social sciences 15.3 % obtained B+)
  • Significantly more students in social sciences (10.2% vs. 3 %) failed the infusion assignments as compared to those in natural sciences;
  • At 100 level courses the situation was the opposite with 61% failing the infusion coursework and no As received.
  • Post-survey results show an increase of 12% in students' knowledge;
  • Students enrolled in hard sciences classes have performed better in both pre- and post-tests;
  • However, growth levels are consistent in both hard and social sciences (11.7, respectively 11.34 mean increase from pre-to post-test);
  • All infused classes except for one registered increase from pre- to post-survey grades;
  • There is some evidence that the most significant improvement was recorded in smaller classes of 8-13 students (except for the Freshman class where growth was slower despite the class size).

Goals 1& 2 evidence from student data (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 60kB Oct18 16)

Goal 3: Increase the numbers of minority students interested in Earth Sciences careers and the quality of their preparation

At one year in, it is too early in the process to assess this goal. Still, based on a number of activities meant to stimulate students' interest in Earth Sciences (listed below) we expect this goal to be met as well.

  1. We started discussions of partnerships between CU and University of South Carolina's McNair's Scholars Program and the School of Earth, Ocean and Environment where students would be exposed to geosciences careers and undergraduate research through co-mentorship. An introductory meeting took place July 1st, 2016 at USC between InTeGrate PI (Kantor), USC TRIO Programs Director (Beasley Paul), McNair program coordinator (White Sharon), the Director of the USC Earth Sciences & Resources Institute (Camelia Knapp) and a USC faculty mentor for the TRIO program (Claudia Benitez Nelson).
  2. Ten students participated in a one-day GIS and GPR training session with the Earth & Water Sciences at USC (picture attached). Fourteen students from CU and the neighboring HBCU, South Carolina State University, participated this September in the Geofest conference organized by the South Carolina Geographic Alliance and the Department of Geography at USC-Columbia (funded through NSF Targeted Infusion Award and SC Geographic Alliance). The students attended the opening session on " America's National Parks and Geographic Literacy" (Dr. John Kupfer, USC) and two training sessions on GeoIntelligence (picture attached).
  3. Joint excursions to Congaree National Park were planned by four faculty team members (postponed due to Hurricane Matthew) for the Ecology and World Geography classes (two InTeGrate-infused courses). The field trips will still take place in Fall 2016 and plans are to take place every semester. The park ranger has planned a number of Earth Sciences field applications.
  4. Based on the last group meeting (October 2016), faculty team members have decided to offer 8-hours of training in "Awareness and education for community natural disaster mitigation and preparedness" to be conducted once every semester at CU. This is a very timely initiative if considering that in the past three years the area has been going through ice storms, flash floods, and hurricanes, including the most recent Hurricane Matthew whose effects are still being felt by the local community. Currently, we are going through the approval process involving the Office of Academic Affairs and faculty approvals. We expect completion and approval of the training by February 2017. Additional support (still work in progress) is being sought from the Freshman College and the CU Learning Communities with the intent to incorporate this training and InTeGrate goals into Freshman curriculum requirements.]

Goal 4: Strengthen faculty capacity to incorporate learning about the Earth at CU.

Nine faculty from two Schools and several departments were brought together in a series of 5 themed workshops during Spring, Summer, and Fall of 2016. Each workshop allowed faculty to share knowledge, ideas and concerns about course infusion and helped them better prepare to incorporate learning of earth Sciences into their own curricula. Each faculty submitted the InTeGrate faculty survey as well an in-house survey developed by the team to allow for a more timely feedback. Overall, 72% of the participating faculty expressed interest in retaining InTeGrate module in their course if somewhat changed, 14% substantially changed and only 14% substantially intact. Their general experience with InTeGrate was good but difficult to implement in the original format.

See the Faculty Reflections and Stories page for a more detailed synthesis of this evidence.

Unexpected Outcomes

Outcome 1: The infusion model was substantially changed after finalizing the evaluation of the program model.

The initial model included a two week bulk infusion whereas the new model will have a 8 hours of training taught by two faculty from the InTeGrate team rotating every semester. The faculty pair will be formed of one instructor from Natural Sciences and one from Social Sciences and the coursework will be spread over two Saturdays (4 hours each) and open for student registration. We are trying to get UNIV 101 on board so that we have a large Freshman participation.

Long-term Impact and Next Steps

On the long run we expect a significant increase in the number of students exposed to Earth Sciences content provided that the training will be successful in attracting students every semester. Similarly, as many team members are involved and hold leadership roles with various University projects we expect an increase in InTeGrate content exposure and an increase in faculty professional development related to hazards mitigation (already looking into FEMA training).