3.4 Engaging Underrepresented Students in Climate Science: An Internship to Remember

Tuesday, 8 January 2019: 9:15 AM
North 229AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Emma Kuster, South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and R. A. McPherson, J. Ansley, K. DeLong, V. Rivera-Monroy, and J. Zak

Established in 2012 by the Department of Interior, the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center provides decision makers with the science, tools, and information they need to address the impacts of climate variability and change on their areas of responsibility. In the Center, we strive to increase minority participation in climate science by engaging with the next generation.

Over the past five years, the Center has organized the Undergraduate Summer Internship for Underrepresented Minorities for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (including physical, natural, and social sciences). The interns learn about opportunities to work with state and federal agencies and learn more about research and graduate school opportunities. Each year, we select around 10 students in our region from traditionally underrepresented groups to participate in our three-week program. In total, we have had 34 females and 15 males (21 Hispanic, 14 African American, and 6 Native American) participate in our program. The applicant pool in a given year is anywhere between 35 to 60+ applicants, and they all must reside in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, or Kansas.

As part of the internship program, the students travel across the south-central United States to visit the university campuses of Texas Tech University, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and Louisiana State University, as well as several field-research locations. The students are involved in hands-on activities and mini-projects related to climate research, have the opportunity to interact with researchers conducting cutting-edge research, and learn about the direct impacts of climate variability and change in our region.

Many of the students who participate in our program often do not have interest in graduate school, have not conducted any scientific research, and in some cases, have not left their home state until they spend time with our team. After the program, many choose to apply to graduate school or seek out other undergraduate research programs. One of our most recent participants summarized the program with this thought: "I feel that I am more confident about my knowledge in climate science and driven to learn more about climate in my master’s program. Again, thank you for everything. This program really does make a difference in our lives!"

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