Initial Publication Date: August 5, 2016

GP-Extra: Geoscience Educational Opportunities and Career Oriented Research Experiences

Project Website:

Sean Tvelia (PI)
Marianne McNamara (Co-PI)
Darryl Butkos (Co-PI)
Scott Mandia (Co-PI)

Short Description

Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) is the largest community college in New York State with over 25,000 students enrolled annually. Despite the large enrollment and a highly successful NSF S-STEM Scholars Program, enrollment in our geoscience program has waned in recent years, like many institutions across the nation. Our GEOPATHS: EXTRA program will bring together three regional high schools, Stony Brook University's Department of Geosciences and its School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Resources Division, and private industry partners in order to increase participation within the geosciences, increase student success and provide pathways to 4-yr institutions and regional career opportunities.


SCCC is located on Long Island in southeastern New York State and is the largest of thirty community colleges within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. SCCC enrolled 26,697 students in fall 2014, of which 43% attended full-time, 52% were women, 91% were under 25 years of age, 52.4% were white, 17.5% were Hispanic and 8.1% were African American. Each year, over 20% of all regional high school graduates enroll at SCCC and most incoming freshmen (approximately 60%) require one or more developmental reading, writing, or mathematics courses.

Although SCCC is the largest community college in the state of New York, our geoscience programs struggle to attract new majors despite a growing demand in the regional workforce. Additionally, many of our majors have a difficult time attending extracurricular activities designed to increase their knowledge base and skill sets due to the need to maintain outside employment to meet Long Island's high cost of living. For example, 30% of the incoming freshmen at SCCC earned or came from a family whose taxable income for the preceding year did not exceed 150% of the poverty level established by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to an Economic Policy Institute study (EPI 2013), Long Island's two eastern counties, Suffolk and Nassau, had the highest annual basic family budget (below which the family is living in poverty) of any U.S. metropolitan area besides New York City—over 300% higher than 200% federal poverty standard for single parent-one child families. As a result of the high cost of living on Long Island, 46% of SCCC students work more than 20 hours per week.


The overarching goals of this project are to:

  1. Increase diversity and participation within geoscience majors
  2. Increase student success within geoscience programs
  3. Enhance transferability and employability of geoscience graduates


In order to achieve our goals the GEO CORE program will provide the following programs: a Summer Institute, a professional development opportunity for local earth science teachers, and an Ambassador Program.

GEO CORE Summer Institute

To increase enrollment and diversity within geoscience programs, SCCC will establish a four-week GEO CORE Summer Institute for high school students, first-year geoscience majors, and in-service secondary teachers. The GEO CORE Summer Institute is designed to encourage participants to pursue careers in geoscience and create a community of geoscience majors between incoming freshman and continuing community college students. Throughout the four-week program, student participants will be immersed in the local geophysical environment where they will study the interconnections between geologic, atmospheric, and marine sciences on Long Island. This program will highlight issues of interest to the local professional and academic geoscience community, provide awareness of transfer paths and local and regional employment opportunities, and create a peer network between incoming and current geoscience students.

GEO CORE Professional Development

Each summer three local secondary teachers will be selected to participate in the Summer Institute to develop classroom activities based on the concepts covered and data recorded during Institute activities. Additionally, throughout the program, teachers will learn about the geoscience programs and partnerships available through SCCC which allow them to better inform their students about educational/transfer programs available at the college as well as the regional employment outlook.

GEO CORE Ambassador Program

The GEO CORE Ambassador program is designed to provide academic and peer support to students enrolled in geoscience courses while also providing skills training to second-year geoscience majors. Students selected as GEO CORE Ambassadors will serve a one-year term and act as peer mentors within the Science Learning Centers or labs and must participate in all CORE training programs. CORE training programs will take place one a month during the fall and spring semester and provide in-depth training on specific skills related to geoscience careers. Additionally all GEO CORE Ambassadors will receive the 40 hr HAZWOPPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) training during the January intersession.

Theory of Change

Through this grant we hope to increase enrollment and persistence within our geoscience programs. Numerous studies, such as those by Renshaw (2014), Nugent (2012), and DeFelice (2014) have demonstrated the educational benefit of field-based and place-based active learning activities. These educational strategies allow students to use information gained in classroom settings in real-world problem solving situations that directly impact their local communities. These activities are highly motivational and encourage scientific education especially among underrepresented populations (DeFelice, 2014). Furthermore, studies by Baber (2010), O'Connell (2011), and Stokes (2014) have also shown that the lack of minority populations within the geosciences is a major factor affecting the willingness of minorities to pursue careers in geoscience. Through the careful selection of GEO CORE Ambassadors and their participation within the GEO CORE Summer Institute, we hope to highlight the current diversity among our majors and create a welcoming community for enrolling students. This program also hopes to increase retention and success of underrepresented groups and minorities in geoscience programs and courses through peer mentoring and tutoring provided by the GEO CORE Ambassadors. Lastly, CORE training programs will provide GEO CORE Ambassadors with the skill sets needed for direct entry into the geoscience workforce upon graduation. CORE activities will also create a direct relationship between geoscience majors and faculty at our largest transfer institution providing a bridge between the community college and the four-year university.

Instruments and Measures of Success

The GEO CORE evaluation plan consists of two components: 1) ongoing formative and semester-based summative assessments of participant knowledge gains and stakeholder satisfaction using questionnaires including the Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG) instrument and 2) annual and summative evaluations of the overall success of the project, based on the program objectives and resulting outcomes. Formative assessments will be used to ensure progress towards implementation goals and inform program practice, with modifications made as necessary. Each year, the management team will review the results of student and mentor assessments and student academic progress to determine if overall project objectives are being met.

Online attitude survey instruments will be provided to all stakeholders, including faculty, students, mentors, research partners, and the management team members. These will be reviewed each semester to determine program impact and satisfaction. Increasing the number of students in geoscience disciplines, extending the experience of participants with research opportunities and contact with geoscience professionals, and enhancing peer mentoring, counseling, and advising will affect STEM departments throughout the college. Stakeholder surveys will include opportunities to gauge the impact of the project on the geoscience faculty experience, the classroom experience of STEM students not participating in the project, and the ability of STEM departments and the institution to better serve all STEM majors, with specific outcomes including persistence, retention, student learning gains and academic performance, completion, transfer, and employment. Project success will be measured by comparing outcomes to established baselines, tracking the academic success, graduation/transfer, research experiences and career advancement of each annual cohort, and comparing aggregate GEO CORE Ambassador data with a control group of GEO CORE-eligible students not served by the program.

Lastly, a student data tracking program will monitor individual students in the GEO CORE and control groups. Annual statistics will be analyzed to determine average year-to-year retention rates, number of course credits completed per semester or per year, number of semesters to graduation, graduation rates, and transfer rates.

This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation GeoPaths program, grant 1600353.