Initial Publication Date: August 10, 2016

GP-EXTRA: Geo-Launchpad: Preparing Colorado Community College Students for Geoscience-Focused Careers

Patrick Shabram, Front Range Community College (PI)
Donna Charlevoix, UNAVCO (PI)

Short Description

This project is a collaborative effort between Front Range Community College (FRCC) and UNAVCO, a non-profit, university-governed consortium that facilitates geoscience research and education. The Geo-Launchpad (GLP) summer internship program seeks to broaden participation in geoscience by engaging diverse, underrepresented, community college students in immersive technical experiences. Rather than a research experience, Geo-Launchpad is a pre-REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program that helps students develop research-ready skills, and provides support in creating a career path in science, engineering, or technology. Full academic support for preparation for geoscience careers is provided through FRCC via seminars, advising, and mentoring.


Recruiting and retaining students to STEM fields is a significant challenge. Many first generation and low income students are in need of mentors to guide them in the selection of career paths in a STEM discipline. There are 13 colleges in the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) with student demographics averaging 33% minority enrollment, with enrollments as high as 54% Hispanic in urban areas [CCCS, 2015]. Front Range Community College (FRCC) is the largest community college in Colorado and the number one transfer institution for three major Colorado universities [FRCC, 2015]. FRCC college-wide, unduplicated headcount for fall of 2014 was 18,689 students of whom 23.5% are minority students, 50% first generation students and 20% are low income.

Broadening participation and engagement in geosciences to include students from historically underrepresented groups may require programmatic elements not necessarily found in a traditional REU [Charlevoix and Morris, 2014]. Students from groups historically underrepresented in the geosciences may face additional challenges in that they often have a less robust support structure to help them navigate the university environment and may be less aware of professional opportunities in the geosciences. Working collaboratively, FRCC and UNAVCO are providing a pathway for students to attain workforce experience early in their academic career as well as exposure to advanced education in the geosciences.

FRCC provides the program infrastructure to help prepare students for internships as well as facilitate opportunities for community college faculty to gain knowledge about the latest research, tools, and professions in Colorado geosciences. UNAVCO provides students with summer employment opportunities in geosciences through paid internships.

UNAVCO operates the National Science Foundation's Earth Science Geodetic Facility, known as the Geodesy Advancing Geosciences and EarthScope (GAGE) Facility. Facilities are charged by NSF-GEO with educating the next generation of scientists, in addition to providing direct scientist support [NSF, 2012]. The UNAVCO GAGE facility will provide Geo-Launchpad interns with exposure to geodesy: a disciplinary topic rarely covered in undergraduate curriculum; the lack thereof compromises the effective education of future geoscientists [NRC, 2013]. Increased understanding of and exposure to geodetic science as an interdisciplinary tool provides interns insight into how various disciplinary areas with the Earth and broader geosciences (including atmospheric applications, hydrology, and cryosphere studies) are connected. The program will be available to all Colorado community college students.


The program is designed to provide a rich and varied experience for students beginning with the application submission to well after the summer program ends. The overall goal of Geo-Launchpad (GLP) is to broaden participation of lower-division undergraduates and community college students from historically underrepresented groups in the geosciences and encourage a pursuit of degrees in geoscience or related STEM majors with five specific goals:

  1. Serve lower-division university and community college students from underrepresented groups
  2. Build student interest in geosciences and related careers
  3. Engage students in collaborative research projects in the geosciences that develop and improve research-ready skills
  4. Build professional development skills and introduce the benefits of mentorship
  5. Provide ongoing support for students choosing to pursue degrees in geosciences and related fields


The GLP activities are designed to expose students to the research process and also to help them develop skills that will help them navigate further academic work and also be beneficial in a professional work environment. The pre-summer activities introduce the program to the incoming students, the majority of the program activities take place during summer, and a few follow up activities continue into the fall.

Pre-summer webinars

Interns are provided the opportunity to virtually meet other students in the cohort and the program staff through email communications, social media, and formal webinars. The motivation for engaging interns early is to help them develop familiarity with the program and ensure any questions they have are answered.

Two webinars around 30 minutes each are administered via WebEx. The first webinar focuses on what to expect throughout the summer including information about living and working in Boulder, Colorado. The second session dives deeper into the projects they will be working on, introduces them to the team of UNAVCO staff mentors who will be working on each project, and includes a question and answer session with two students who completed the program the prior summer. The intern alums provide perspective on the summer and answer questions from interns.

Summer program

The summer program is highly structured with time split between project work and participation in professional development and skills-building activities. A typical week for interns is shown in the table below. During summer, interns have the option to live in the same housing complex as interns from other local summer internship programs.

Research Support Project (Goals 2-3). Interns work collaboratively on a research support project with UNAVCO technical staff members. The design of students working in small groups aims to help students leverage each other, draw on individual strengths, foster teamwork skills, and provide a real-world working environment. Students are provided office space within the UNAVCO facility and all required computing resources and supplies. Projects are designed by the technical staff and directly contribute to the scope of work they are responsible for in supporting community science researchers.

Geology Field Trip (Goal 2). Interns participate in a geoscience field trip to significant geological features found in the local area. Past field trip excursions have included Red Rocks Amphitheater, Dinosaur Ridge, the Morrison Natural History Museum, and Rocky Mountain National Park. The field trips are conducted early in the summer and include interns from the two other intern programs managed by UNAVCO, Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students (RESESS) and UNAVCO Student Internship Program (USIP), allowing an opportunity for informal interactions and developing near-peer relationships.

Weekly check-ins. The Geo-Launchpad program assistant meets individually with each intern for 30 minutes each Monday morning. This provides interns the opportunity to share successes and voice any concerns in a more private setting. As the intern projects are collaborative with interns working in pairs or trios, the weekly independent meetings allow the program staff insight into how things are going for individual interns. The check-ins also provide the interns a chance to reflect on the work and activities they've completed in the previous week and set goals for the current week.

Communications and professional development seminar (Goals 3-4). The purpose of the seminar is to explore non-academic communications as a student and a scientist. Over half of the sessions are held jointly with the RESESS internship communications seminar. Sessions are focused on actively producing written, visual or oral content and then practiced with the entire group.

Skills seminar (Goal 4). Each Friday morning, the program assistant conducts a one to two hour working seminar in which interns learn and practice skills that are of benefit to them either academically in geoscience coursework, or personally by helping them with organization and personal management. Topics include email etiquette, digital file management and organization, calendaring systems, online organizational tools, Microsoft Excel, and tips and tricks for using Google Earth and Adobe Illustrator (the latter is the program the interns use to design their posters, more information about their posters below under "Project presentations").

Geoscience Career Circle lunch (Goal 2). Every Wednesday over lunch, interns are exposed to potential careers through informal discussions with guest speakers. Speakers represent various geo-workforce sectors including industry, non-profit environment, academia, research, government, and consulting. Speakers discuss their career trajectory followed by an informal question and answer period.

Regular communications with faculty mentors (Goal 4). Interns are encouraged to update their faculty mentors about their project on a regular basis throughout the summer. Program staff does not prescribe these communications, rather they are left to the interns to initiate and negotiate with their faculty mentor.

Geoscience-focused field trip (Goals 2-3). This optional-but-encouraged field trip allows interns to participate in an overnight field trip to the University of Colorado (CU) Mountain Research Station led primarily by CU geology graduate students. The motivation is to provide an environment in which Geo-Launchpad interns are immersed in activities with both RESESS interns (upper division undergraduates) and graduate students. This structure provides multi-level mentoring that cannot be programmed through seminars and workshops.

Project presentations (Goals 2-4). Intern groups present the overall work project at a UNAVCO colloquium and at an annual poster session held locally in Boulder. The annual end-of-summer community poster session includes over 60 interns from other programs, primarily REU internships, but with academic levels ranging from high school to early graduate school.

Post-summer activities (Goal 5)

Faculty mentor meetings. A requirement of the program includes students meeting with their faculty mentor at least once in fall. The goal of the meeting is to provide a continuing conduit for information and a post-summer point of support at their local institution. Students who transfer to 4-year colleges or universities have the option to meet with their mentors virtually.

Continued communications. Program staff remain in touch with interns after they return home through both email and social media. The program staff are dedicated to continue support after the conclusion of the intern's formal experience in the program.

Theory of Change

This project will impact hundreds of students and faculty throughout Colorado and has the potential to influence community college programs and career paths of thousands of students across the nation. The project will benefit society by increasing the collective knowledge of students and faculty across the state of Colorado of career opportunities in geosciences. The visibility of geosciences as a career path will be raised amongst Colorado students through an extensive outreach and informational campaign across the state, and as a result of student participation in the program. These students are expected to share their experiences with friends, family and colleagues. The Geo-Launchpad program leverages previous and ongoing investments of NSF, including the UNAVCO GAGE facility, and coordination with other NSF-funded internship programs. New collaborations with other two-year colleges' geoscience initiatives across the state, such as SAGE 2YC, will broaden impact and dissemination. The knowledge gained and dissemination through the implementation of this project will inform community college systems in other states and provide guidelines for best practices in developing geo-focused partnerships between community colleges and local industry and government organizations.

Instruments and Measures of Success

The external evaluation of the Geo-Launchpad program contains formative and summative elements. Formative evaluation is designed to provide recommendations to modify the program for future implementations, and summative evaluation is designed to assess whether the program has met its benchmarks. The evaluation uses mixed-methods measures, including pre-post student surveys, observations of Geo-Launchpad programming, and student and faculty interviews.

The external evaluation is guided by the following questions:

  1. Has students' interest in geoscience careers, their knowledge about career options, and their capacity to pursue these careers increased from their participation in the GLP internship?
  2. Have students' technical, networking, and scientific communication skills increased from their participation in the GLP internship?
  3. What are the essential program elements that contributed to the desired outcomes, and which elements might be modified in the future, if needed, to improve outcomes?

Data are collected using a modified version of the Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA) instrument (Laursen, Hunter, Weston & Thiry, 2009). The URSSA, a statistically reliable and validated instrument, serves as the foundations of the survey, yet some items were adapted to better fit the pre-research nature of the GLP program. The URSSA was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation to assess students' personal, professional, and intellectual outcomes from participating in undergraduate research, including REU experiences.

Interns completing the program will become part of the Geo-Launchpad Alumni Network. FRCC, in conjunction with UNAVCO and the evaluator, will develop a structured mechanism to track students after completion of the program.


Charlevoix, D. J., and A. R. Morris (2014), Increasing Diversity in Geoscience Through Research Internships, Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union , 95 (8), 69-70, doi:10.1002/2014EO080001.

CCCS, Colorado Community College System, accessed January 15, 2015

FRCC (2015) - Front Range Community College Strategic Plan, accessed February 10, 2015

Laursen, S. L., Hunter, A., Weston, T., & Thiry, H. (2009, December). URSSA, the Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment: A Tool for Assessing Student Outcomes of Undergraduate Research. In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts (Vol. 1, p. 0576).

NRC (2013), Preparing the next generation of earth scientists: An examination of federal education and training programs, Prepublication Rep. , National Research Council, Washington, DC.

NSF (2012), Strategic Frameworks for Education & Diversity, Facilities, International Activities, and Data & Informatics in the Geosciences Rep. , 38 pp, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation GeoPaths program, grant #1540524.