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The Need for longitudinal Tracking of Student Success and Career Choices - Lessons from the SOARS Program

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Monday, 24 January 2011
The Need for longitudinal Tracking of Student Success and Career Choices - Lessons from the SOARS Program
Washington State Convention Center
Rebecca Haacker-Santos, UCAR, Boulder, CO; and R. Pandya and M. Kennedy

While there is widespread agreement about the need to diversify the atmospheric and related sciences, there has been little coordinated effort to track the progress of students from under-represented groups. As pointed out in the landmark 2004 report, “A Bridge for All: Higher Education Design Principles to Broaden Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” such tracking is a hallmark of the most successful programs that increase diversity in the STEM fields.

Our presentation is intended to discuss some strategies for better tracking, and therefore supporting, students from under-represented groups, drawing on the 15-year history of the SOARS program. The mission of SOARS® is to broaden participation in the geosciences by increasing the number of Black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino, female, and first-generation college students who enroll and succeed in graduate school in the atmospheric and related sciences. SOARS is a multi-year undergraduate-to-graduate bridge program that uses three strategies: a strong learning community, a multidimensional mentoring program, and experience in research.

Our presentation begins by describing the longitudinal participant tracking over SOARS' 15-year history. We will provide an overview of program statistics and highlight individual successes, such as protégés who entered the jobs in STEM fields or took faculty positions. In the 15 years since SOARS' founding, 138 students have participated in the program. Of those participants, 10 are still enrolled as undergraduates, and 104 have gone on to pursue graduate school in STEM. Overall, this represents a success rate 75% for STEM, or 89% if we include students who earn graduate degrees in non-STEM fields. Eleven SOARS participants have already earned their PhD, and additional 23 are in PhD programs.

We will next describe the challenges for accurate tracking. For SOARS, the principal challenge has been in maintaining contact with a large group of students who are increasingly moving into diverse careers. The challenge is particularly great with students who have moved out of meteorology or students who are several years away from participation in SOARS. Staying in contact with students offers two new opportunities. For SOARS, it means the additional potentially valuable feedback that could improve the program. We have often found, and research seems to support this, that the feedback comes from protégés who have entered the workforce or gone through graduate school is the most valuable in improving the program. For instance, protégés have suggested that SOARS may need to offer its protégés a slightly less “sheltered” experience to both help them prepare for and decide about the general community.

For SOARS protégés and the field, keeping track of students means enhanced ability to connect them to new opportunities, and better retain them in the atmospheric and related sciences. Our presentation will conclude, therefore, with a discussion of ways for the AMS, NOAA, UCAR and the university community of atmospheric science programs to better track and connect to its students from under-represented communities.