Initial Publication Date: July 10, 2019

Program/Department Development

Goals for change at the program/department level

  1. Increase student retention and success in geoscience courses
  2. Broaden participation in geoscience courses
  3. Familiarize students with geoscience career options
  4. Find ways for the geoscience faculty at PCC to interact more with each other and form a more collaborative community


Our team has worked with our college's Office of Institutional Effectiveness throughout this project to help us compile and examine institutional data (using the SAGE 2YC's Course Inventory template) from our geology courses for the academic years 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019. We have examined other forms of data as well that go back further in time, such as our campus's Equity Dashboard and Annual Updates. Enrollment, retention, and success data for the past five years show that there is a significant difference in success among various demographic groups. In particular, success rates among Hispanic students are 15-20% lower that that of their Asian and White peers. We have begun implementing several strategies for broadening participation in our courses and hope to see changes in the near future.
  1. Efforts to broaden participation in the geosciences are at the forefront of our minds when we walk into our classrooms. Pasadena City College (PCC) serves more than 30,000 students each semester. Demographically our student body is 51% Latino, 24% Asian, 15% White, 4% African American, 2% two or more races, and 2% unknown/other. Thus, more than half of our student body is underrepresented in the geosciences, and many are also first-generation college students.Classroom strategies to help validate that students belong can be as simple as learning (and using) everyone's name, helping them develop a science identity, and values affirmation activities that address stereotype threat. Linked to career projects students learn about successful geoscientists who are women and underrepresented minorities.
  2. In order to improve academic success for our students we have implemented an array of well-documented, pedagogically-sound classroom strategies to increase learning and student success. These include using active learning approaches (see for example these posters about active learning strategies) and teaching self-regulated learning techniques (see for example activities that develop self-regulated learning). We also use student-centered, formative assessments that are readily measurable, such as clicker questions, concept maps, one-minute papers, and quick opportunities to practice things like summarizing, predicting, and practicing. In terms of course content we have made a concerted effort to add topics with more societal relevance, such as mineral resources, groundwater, local hazards, and petroleum.
  3. Our department-wide sustainability project, which takes students outside to help clean up local beaches and think about local environmental concerns, provides a personal connection for students and the course material. We are adopting the InTeGrate Attitudinal Instrument for pre- and post-semester surveys that will assess the effectiveness in changing student mindsets towards the need for the sustainable use of resources and the effects of our throwaway culture.
  4. PCC is one of California's top schools for transfers to local universities, including the CSU and UC system, USC, Art Center College of Design, Caltech, and more. We meet regularly with campus career counselors to discuss ways to improve student retention and success in STEM classes, and to clarify pathways for students who plan to transfer to 4-year institutions. In a number of our classes students work on a career project that gets them familiar with the broad array of geoscience careers and associated degree requirements. Guest speakers from nearby universities have visited most of our classes to discuss geoscience transfer and career options.
  5. Members of the somewhat newly minted "geoscience and environmental science department" have been meeting every two weeks since Fall 2017. At these meetings we worked on improving our joint sustainability project and shared ideas on activities that we developed or otherwise find to be effective. Our 2018-2019 SAGE 2YC workshop was wrapped into a 3-day retreat in January 2019 and attended by 8 full time faculty members (including our interim Dean) and one adjunct from PCC. Periodic peer reviews (i.e., classroom observations) in our department help us "spread the SAGE 2YC word" to full time and adjunct colleagues by modeling many of the above-mentioned strategies when we are being observed, and also helps us provide suggestion to those we observe.


  1. From the 2017-2018 academic year data, our combined geology class enrollments have grown 31% over the past four years and overall student success in geology courses has increased by about 12%. Hispanic enrollment in geology courses has increased by 34% from 2014/2015 levels, and their success has increased by 14%.
  2. Reflecting the data on student success, students are more engaged in our classrooms as our courses have replaced traditional lectures with active learning strategies. The classrooms feel more like a community as students work in groups and get to know each other better.
  3. For the sustainability project, last semester's data on what types of trash and how much was picked up was recorded. In this and subsequent semesters the amounts and types of trash encountered and removed will continue to be recorded, and this will allow for long-term analyses of trends in the occurrence of trash (especially plastics) in our local watersheds and beaches. In addition, we have this semester added a pre- and post- assignment aimed to see how opinions about the need for sustainability have been changed by participation in the geoscience sustainability project.
  4. We have worked with counselors and each other to develop a curriculum map that will get geology majors through our college and well-prepared for transfer, in about two years (without summer or winter classes). Students who do the geoscience career project are surprised by the enormous array of opportunities in the earth sciences.
  5. The 2018-2019 SAGE 2YC retreat was described by attendees as very helpful in the end-of-workshop evaluations. All participants were asked to read a portion of Whistling Vivaldi prior to the retreat, and this led to great discussions about how to reach students who don't feel that they belong in our classes. The retreat truly strengthened our geoscience community and the faculty are excited (no lie!) for upcoming retreats.