Initial Publication Date: January 26, 2018

GP-EXTRA Plugging the Leaky Geoscience Pipeline: Bridging the Transition from Community College to University in Oregon

Deron Carter, Linn-Benton Community College (PI)
Shanaka de Silva, Oregon State University (co-PI)

Short Description

Linn-Benton Community College Oregon State-Geobridge (LBOS-Geobridge) is an extracurricular program bridging geoscience students from Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) to nearby Oregon State University (OSU). The students participate in a place-based collaborative research project; take part in field trips that build their skills for upper-level geoscience course work; and meet local geoscience professionals during the summer before the students transfer. These activities help build a cohort that supports each other through the academic, social, and institutional challenges that many transfer students face.


Linn-Benton Community College is a comprehensive, public, two-year college serving the mid-Willamette Valley of Oregon since 1967. LBCC has an enrollment of approximately 20,000 students. The student population is ~58% female / 42% male, and ~15% of the students belong to an underrepresented minority (URM) group.

In 2015-16, LBCC awarded 271 Associate of Arts and Science Degrees, and 73% of these students transferred to a four-year college or university. Additionally, about 23% of students taking courses for credit were dual-enrolled with OSU. These data highlight the need to broaden and strengthen the pathways that engage and retain undergraduate students and help prepare them for a variety of career pathways. For geology majors, this transfer pipeline is often leaky. Students, particularly those from under-represented groups, face several challenges early in the transition to 4YCU programs, sometimes causing them to drop out of a major in geology.

Geoscience courses at LBCC are housed within the Physical Sciences Department, which has five full-time faculty (2 physics, 2 chemistry, 1 Earth Science) and 17 part-time faculty, 5 of whom regularly teach geoscience courses. LBCC offers an Associate's Degree in Physical Sciences with Geology emphasis that is fully transferable to OSU, with coursework in Physical and Historical Geology, Oceanography, General Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus. Since the inception of the LBCC Geology Associate's Degree in 2010, 85 students have declared a geology major at LBCC.

Oregon State University, in Corvallis, OR, is the state's Land Grant University and leading public research university, with over 30,000 students. The Earth Science B.S. Degree is housed in the College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Science (CEOAS). There are three options in the Earth Sciences Degree: Geology, Ocean Sciences, and Climate Science. LBCC's main campus in Albany is eight miles from Corvallis, making LBCC a significant feeder of STEM students to neighboring OSU. The strong Degree Partnership Program (DPP) between LBCC and OSU makes LBCC an ideal starting point. In 2015-2016, 2,717 LBCC students were enrolled in this program.


The LBOS-Geobridge program helps geoscience students successfully bridge the transition between LBCC and nearby Oregon State University. Students participate in an extracurricular bridge program focused on addressing challenges that many geoscience transfer students face. These challenges include "transfer shock," related to the social and institutional challenges faced when transferring from a 2YC to a 4YCU; academic weaknesses in cognate subjects (chemistry, physics, mathematics) necessary to be successful in the geosciences; and limited exposure to the geoscience profession, including field work, research opportunities, and professional networks.

The main goals of the project are to:

  1. Reduce transfer shock for students along their pathway from 2YC to 4YCU.
  2. Make explicit connections between cognate disciplines (chemistry, physics, mathematics) and geoscience.
  3. Give students access to a professional network of geoscientists and build technical skills related to geoscience employment.
  4. Increase the self-efficacy of transfer students in the geosciences.


Collaborative summer-fall research program (addresses goals 1-4)

Participants work together in a collaborative, geoscience research project. The group research project is designed to build technical skills that are transferable to other undergraduate research opportunities and future employment. Students are trained in lab safety, sample preparation, data analysis and interpretation. Students mentor each other for technical mastery and work together to solve problems in a team setting. Emphasis is placed on the application of chemistry and mathematics (through data analysis) to a geoscience research question. Students also gain access to a professional network of faculty and other researchers using the labs.

The collaborative nature of the research project stresses the importance of group work and builds a cohort that supports each other in research-related challenges. Students are paid for 40 hours per week of work on the research project. Research primarily takes place at OSU, approximately 10 miles from LBCC, allowing for the participation of place-based transfer students.

Summer field work that strengthens students' preparation for upper-level geoscience courses (addresses goals 1 and 4)

LBOS-Geobridge students participate in two multi-day field trips during the summer before transferring to OSU. Field trips build skills directly aligned with the first class they will take at OSU, GEO 295: Introduction to Field Geology. These skills include measuring geologic structures, identifying rock units, and constructing geologic maps. The overnight field trips take place at an OSU research station in Central Oregon. In addition to building students' field skills, these trips give the participants the opportunity to assess whether they have the appropriate gear for field work.

Summer and fall-term classroom activities (addresses goals 1-4)

The Geobridge cohort meets regularly during the summer and fall terms immediately before and after transfer. These meetings allow LBCC students to socialize with successful transfer students, problem solve together about the collaborative research project, and benefit from mentoring by the project PIs. Additionally, the PIs provide structured sessions that engage students in activities designed to support student success in gateway courses such as Mineralogy and Introduction to Field Geology. Examples of activities include construction of cross-sections, identification of mineral groups, identification of igneous rocks, and introduction to petrographic microscopy. In addition, the cohort has opportunities to meet professional geoscientists from local consulting firms and government agencies. Students also spend time in self-directed activities, such as evaluating their own readiness to tackle the demands of field work. All of these activities are designed to strengthen the cohort, build confidence, and provide information about careers in the geosciences.

Theory of Change

We hypothesize that through the LBOS-Geobridge program, which supports a cohort of geoscience transfer students from LBCC to OSU, program participants will succeed in upper-level courses and persist in a geoscience major. Our Theory of Change is that by providing students with academic, social, and professional experiences, we can strengthen their self-efficacy and their geoscience knowledge and skills. These experiences also introduce the students to OSU faculty and students prior to transfer, thus increasing Geobridge program students' familiarity with the new institution and their sense of belonging there. With this foundation of self-efficacy, skills, and sense of belonging, Geobridge program students will be more likely to succeed in their courses, thus increasing the chances that they will persist through a Geoscience major and earn an Earth Science B.S.

In particular, we expect to accomplish this by:

  • Reducing 2YC student transfer shock by building a peer-to-peer network of transfer students who will support each other through the transfer process;
  • Providing place-based 2YC transfer students the opportunity to conduct geoscience research, thus building students' research skills that will enable them to be employed in geoscience-related research as undergraduates and beyond; and
  • Increasing students' understanding of the variety of geoscience careers available.

Instruments and Measures of Success

Evaluation consists of a mixed-method approach involving semi-structured interviews of students before and after participating in the program, grades in "gateway" courses, and persistence in the geoscience program at OSU. Our outcomes and measures of success include:

  • Passing gateway courses in Introduction to Field Geology and Mineralogy, measured through student grades
  • Persisting in and completing the geology major at OSU, measured by the completion of upper-division geology courses
  • Conducting post-Geobridge undergraduate research at OSU, measured by the number of Geobridge program students continuing to conduct research as undergraduates
  • Improving self-efficacy in geoscience skills and geoscientific identity, as tracked through pre/post program interviews
  • Articulating specific geoscience career aspirations, as identified in the pre/post program interviews

The PIs acknowledge and thank Susan Eriksson for thoughtful insights and evaluation of the program.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation GeoPaths program, grant #1600403.