Supporting Minority Students in Geoscience at GCC

Part of the Supporting Minority Students in the Geosciences Collection.
Information for this profile comes from the GateWay Community College Hydrologic Studies website and an interview with Mario Castaneda on November 25th, 2013. You can get additional information about Hydrologic Studies program on the GateWay Community College website.

Jump down to Context | Keys to Success | Attracting New Students | Supporting Our Majors | Preparing Students for Careers

GateWay Community College


GateWay Community College is located in Phoenix, Arizona, and is one of 10 community colleges in the Maricopa community college district. Students tend to come from Maricopa county (the county that includes Phoenix) and graduating students tend to want to stay in Maricopa county. Just over 25% of the student body is hispanic. Many students are non-traditional students seeking re-career training. The average student age is around 35 years old. Many students do not have a previous degree, but some come in with bachelors and masters degrees. These students typically still need additional coursework to meet the certification requirements of the American Institute of Hydrology as hydrologic technicians to be hired by the USGS (or other federal or state agencies or local municipalities).

Keys to Success

  • Attracting new students to the program by being the sole proctoring site in Arizona for many wastewater and water technician certification exams.
  • Supporting majors through offering a flexible program format that is a hybrid of online and face-to-face courses.
  • Preparing students for careers by preparing for certification for federal, state, and local hydrologic and wastewater technician jobs.

Attracting New Students

Many of the students in the program are seeking career re-training. They come to the program to receive new training to make a career change. Since 2008, we have been the only location in the state of Arizona to proctor exams for water and wastewater technician certification. This allows us an opportunity to promote our program among individuals who wish to obtain further certification. Individuals come to the school for their exam and learn that our department offers opportunities to earn additional certification, refresher courses, etc.

Once students enter the program, we advise them on which courses to enroll in to ensure they can complete their required coursework as quickly and efficiently as possible. We also discuss the supports that are available to them and what careers they are most interested in.

One of the challenges we face is how to market the program to make it more appealing to younger students. High school students are not interested in pursuing a job where they may have to handle wastewater, even though the program prepares students quickly and there are jobs available for our graduates. There are very few students entering the program from high school, even though we go to high schools and give presentations on the degrees and opportunities available though our program. We visit high schools, offer 2 open houses every year and have opportunities for high school counselors to come and visit the department to learn more about the degree program and career opportunities for students. The program still seems to attract mid-career individuals at a much higher rate than students directly out of high school.

Supporting Our Majors

Many of our classes are now offered online or as hybrid online and face-to-face courses. Due to difficult economic times, many of our students cannot afford to travel to campus frequently for classes. We were beginning to see a decrease in attendance as our students struggled to get to classes. About 4-5 years ago, we began offering the theory portions of many of our classes online so students do not need to travel as often to campus. We still offer hands-on portions of the class in person during the evenings and weekends since the nature of the work students will be doing requires interaction with equipment and knowledge of laboratory procedures.

There is also a learning center on campus that provides tutoring support for basic skills. As with our degree program, the learning center offers online tutoring to support students who don't have the resources to travel to the college to get tutoring support in person.

Preparing Students for New Careers


Students are well prepared for work in a variety of jobs once they graduate and pass certification exams. We primarily prepare students for work as USGS hydrologic technicians. When our program began, that was the only certification that graduates were prepared to receive. Recently, we have changed our degree program to also prepare students for work at state agencies and local municipalities. Students choose which certification they want to receive when they begin coursework.

This has greatly expanded the opportunities for students. Work with the USGS almost always required students to move away from the area to locations throughout Arizona and the US. By now offering certifications that state and local agencies require, students can find work locally which supports minority students because often they cannot travel far from their current locations for new work due to family or economic constraints. This has also provided opportunities for non-citizen minorities to pursue a degree in our department since being a citizen is not a requirement of the local municipalities, whereas it is a requirement for federal work.

Courses that prepare students for these careers

The courses offered are specifically selected and designed such that students can receive the kind of certification that they desire- either federally as a hydrologic technician, or at the state-level as water and wastewater technicians. Courses offer opportunities for both hands-on work with state-of-the-art equipment and theory so students are well prepared for the kind of career work that they will be doing upon earning their certification and a job.

GateWay also offers Certificates of Completion for students who have prior knowledge of wastewater treatment or hydrologic studies. These "refresher courses" cover the essential information required by the certification board (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) such that students have the foundational knowledge necessary to pass the exams and get jobs. The refresher courses are self-paced online review courses and take between 2 weeks and 1 semester to complete. These courses make it possible for students to gain certification as quickly and efficiently as possible.