Initial Publication Date: June 14, 2016

GP-Impact: Freshman Year to Geoscience Career

Allan Ludman, Queens College CUNY (PI)
Holly Porter-Morgan, LaGuardia Community College (Co-PI)
Monica Trujillo, Queensborough Community College (Co-PI)

Short Description

The "Freshman Year To Geoscience Career" project is developing a seamless, supportive path from the time a student chooses a college major to when s/he enters graduate school or employment as a geoscientist. This multi-campus partnership provides help for students from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, regardless of where they first enter the education pipeline. Innovative strategies in this project address transitions at four key points at which students make or confirm the decision to pursue a career in geology or environmental science or to drop out of the STEM pipeline: 1) Starting a geoscience career path at a community college; 2) transferring from a 2-year to 4-year college or university; 3) completing a rigorous geoscience major; and 4) transitioning to graduate school or geoscience employment.


LaGuardia Community College, Queensborough Community College, and Queens College serve students from the most ethnically diverse county in the nation. These schools are officially "minority" schools with large Hispanic (Central and South America), Asian (China, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia), and Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) populations. The consortium typically has a student body profile including 25-44% Hispanic, 7-25% African American, 23-25% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 19-35% White. Most of the students receive need-based financial aid: LaGuardia, 48%; Queensborough, 65%; and Queens College 60%. Student here often work to support themselves and their families, balancing full-time academic loads with 20-40 hour weekly employment while at the same time caring for siblings, parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Due to these obstacles, many students drop out along the geoscience career pipeline either because they are unable to complete the rigorous degree requirements or because they feel isolated or have a sense of "not belonging." Many families of these minority students are unfamiliar with geoscience careers or mistakenly believe that the careers have low pay and prestige. This project aims to create a new culture that unites students and faculty from the 2- and 4-year institutions to provide sustainable support for this diverse student body.


This project is designed to increase the number and diversity of geoscience students at the participating CUNY system schools: LaGuardia Community College, Queensborough Community College, and Queens College. The goals are to increase and retain geoscience majors at community colleges; create a seamless transition for these students to a baccalaureate institution; increase retention and academic performance at the 4-year institution; and provide the skills needed to identify, apply for, and obtain an advanced degree or post-graduate employment.

Project objectives are focused on the four critical stages where students may leave a geoscience major. These stages include:

  1. Starting a geoscience career path at a community college
  2. Transferring from a 2-year college to a 4-year college or university
  3. Completing a rigorous geoscience degree
  4. Transitioning to graduate school or geoscience employment.

To help students navigate past these critical points, the project is implementing strategies that focus on actively supporting students through recruiting, advising, engagement, and career counseling.


To help students navigate past these critical points, the project is implementing strategies that focus on actively supporting students through recruiting, advising, engagement, and career counseling. Strategies we use along the geoscience career pipeline include recruiting gesocience students and majors, clarifying requirements, building community, providing academic and economic support, and providing information about careers and professional skills development. The following is a sampling of some of the key project activities.

Actively recruiting potential students and majors

  • Send geoscience information designed by all 3 campuses to feeder high school guidance counselors and families of incoming freshmen
  • Translate geoscience career information for students and their families into the major languages spoken on campus. The career information includes a long list of geoscience careers available in the New York City metropolitan area.
  • Guarantee admission to graduate program: Students are informed from the first geoscience classes at all three campuses that they will be guaranteed admission to the Queens College M.S. in Applied Environmental Geosciences if they maintain a 3.0 GPA. This graduate program requires students to participate in a 6-credit internship rather than the traditional research thesis.

Creating a learning community that spans the three campuses

  • "Retreats" held before the start of each academic year bring together new majors, faculty, and advanced students from all 3 campuses. Faculty and students talk about their research and opportunities for new students to get involved and also discuss career pathways.
  • Welcome ceremonies held at the end of each semester welcome new majors and celebrate completions of associate and bachelor degrees.
  • Queens College School of Earth and Environmental Science (SEES) undergraduate advisors meet with majors at LaGuardia and Queensborough to answer questions and talk about transfer and career paths
  • Freshman Year Initiative: Each year 40 Queens College freshman are recruited for a learning community. Students are divided into 2 cohorts (20 each) and blocked into a course schedule including either Physical Geology and Freshman Writing courses, or Environmental Science and Freshman Writing courses. Assignments, lectures, and labs are coordinated with the cohorts.

Increasing retention through student engagement and tutoring

  • Undergraduate research opportunities are funded by Queens College SEES program and through NSF research grants to SEES faculty.
  • Research poster session at Queens College highlights ongoing research at all 3 campuses and introduces the community college students and their mentors to peers at Queens College.
  • Service learning is introduced to immerse majors in geoscience teaching and research for interested and qualifying students
    • Peer Advisors: $1500 stipends are available to qualifying students in years 1, 2, 3 to serve as teaching aides in introductory geoscience labs and to serve as tutors for at-risk students. As a result, peer advisors become more engaged in their majors and students who need academic support get it from their peers.
    • Offer employment opportunities for students as research assistants with faculty and graduate students at Queens College.
  • Free tutoring in calculus for geoscience students is offered by a cohort of math majors at Queens College.

Preparing for transitioning to graduate school or geoscience employment

Career counseling workshops are offered throughout the students' academic pathway. Students will receive scaffolded career planning advice through collaboration from the Queens College Career Guidance Office, Queensborough Community College advisors, and LaGuardia Community College advisors.

  • Freshman year: explain the process, especially timeline, for finding a job or graduate program, and ways to make you and your resume competitive
  • Sophomore year: present alumni career talks and help students learn how to search for jobs and graduate programs
  • Junior year: offer resume writing workshops, support for writing personal goals and discuss the do's and don'ts of applying for jobs and graduate school
  • Senior year: help students hone their interview skills

Theory of Change

By strategically providing supports for undergraduate students approaching and moving through the STEM pipeline, this project will help students overcome the academic, social, cultural, and economic barriers that might otherwise cause them to leave school before they complete a Bachelors degree or enter graduate school and/or the geoscience work force. Although the project is designed specifically to increase the number and diversity of geoscience students at the participating CUNY system campuses, the problems it addresses are endemic and the solutions it offers can serve as a model across all academic institutions and disciplines.

This project tests two hypotheses: 1) that a discipline-based learning community spanning 2- and 4-year colleges can have the type of positive impact that traditional learning communities have demonstrated; and 2) that engaging students in service learning can deepen understanding and strengthen connections to their major in the same ways that participation in undergraduate research does.

Instruments and Measures of Success

We will use a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures for formative and summative evaluation of the project.

Quantitative measures

Quantitative measures will include:

  • The number of new majors
  • Student GPAs
  • Effectiveness of calculus tutors (grade comparisons between participant group and outside group)
  • Time to complete degrees
  • Retention rates
  • Percentage of graduates pursuing post-graduate geoscience degrees and professions.

Qualitative measures

Qualitative measures obtained from surveys, interviews, and focus groups will ascertain the effect of project strategies in changing students' perspectives of geoscience education and careers, level of engagement in the major, effectiveness of the multi-campus learning community, peer advisers, workshops for building career-related skills, and counseling for the post-graduation transition.

Research Works, Inc. will use ™SNAP Survey, which allows project participants to use any electronic device to answer surveys, complete activity logs, or provide factual information on program activities. Recording and verbatim transcription that includes initial coding will permit data analysis using NVivo, a qualitative software tool that will also help to combine qualitative and quantitative data for review and analysis.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation GeoPaths program, grant #1540730.