Broadening participation in the Atmospheric Sciences though participatory research

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 9:30 AM
B214 (GWCC)
Rajul Pandya, UCAR, Boulder, CO

In spite of consistent efforts over the past two decades, the atmospheric sciences remain less diverse than the overall population of the United States and even other sciences. This lack of diversity threatens the quality of the science, the long-term viability of our workforce, and the ability to leverage scientific insight in service of societal needs.

Drawing on new research into diversity specific to geosciences and personal experience from the SOARS program, this talk will explore underlying causes for the lack of diversity in the atmospheric and related sciences. Causes to be discussed include:

•the lack atmospheric science majors available at institutions with large minority enrollment,

• a curriculum in undergraduate atmospheric sciences that is largely designed around weather forecasting and may not attract students looking for jobs in the emerging green economy

• an association with the geosciences, including mining and other extractive industries, which have negative associations for some minority communities

• the perception among many students interested in community service that science offers less opportunity for service than other fields (e.g. medicine or law).

This talk also suggest a new approach – community-based participatory research (CBPR). In CBPR, which was first applied in the field of rural development and has been used for many years in biomedical fields, scientists and community leaders work together to design a research agenda that simultaneously advances basic understanding and fulfills community priorities. Good CBPR includes integrates research, education and capacity-building.

A CBRP approach to atmospheric science can address the perceived lack of relevance of the atmospheric science and may start to ameliorate a history of negative experiences of geosciences. Since CBPR works best when it is community-initiated, it can provide an ideal place for Minority-Serving Institutions to launch their own locally-relevant programs in the atmospheric and related sciences. Finally, because community priorities necessarily extend beyond atmospheric sciences, a CBPR curriculum should offer students opportunities to learn a variety of skills and extend the atmospheric sciences curriculum well beyond forecasting.

Finally, the talk will describe three new examples of CBPR. The first is NCAR's partnership with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges, and the American Indian Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group and the resulting initiatives to explore climate change and its impact on Tribal lands. The second approach is newer, a Denver-area listening conference that will identify and articulate climate-change related priorities in the rapidly-growing Denver-area Latino community. Finally, the talk will describe a Google-funded project that brings together atmospheric scientists, epidemiologists, medical doctors, and economists to use improved precipitation forecasts to better manage Meningitis in Ghana.