Strategies for Broadening Participation in the Atmospheric and Related Sciences at the Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional Level

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Sunday, 29 January 2006
Strategies for Broadening Participation in the Atmospheric and Related Sciences at the Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional Level
Exhibit Hall A2 (Georgia World Congress Center)
Rajul E. Pandya, UCAR, Boulder, CO

Atmospheric and related sciences are among the least diverse of all sciences. This lack of diversity, especially the small numbers of Black or African-American, Latino or Hispanic, and American Indian of Alaskan Natives in our field, undermines our global competitiveness and threatens our future workforce. Already, a sharp reduction in the number of foreign national visas has had impacted our graduate programs. In the future, demographic changes in the US will mean more than half the US workforce will be members of the groups that are currently underrepresented in atmospheric sciences.

Recently, research programs have documented strategies that are successful for increasing the numbers of students from historically under-represented groups who participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This talk will summarize three of these research efforts, described briefly below. A survey of over 124 higher-education based STEM programs A workshop report from the American Chemical Society emphasizing cooperation between industry and academia An independent ethnographic study of the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric and Related Science (SOARS) program, administered by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)

Results from these efforts suggest a set of successful strategies that can be grouped into three fundamental principals: bridges between levels, community networks, enriched experiences.

Bridges refers to the idea that programmatic success in increasing the number of students reaching any educational or professional milestone depends on sustained efforts that proceed and follow that milestone. For example, the undergraduate programs that are most successful in graduating students from underrepresented groups cooperate with high schools to recruit and prepare promising students, and actively and visibly prepare their undergraduates for careers or graduate school.

Community networks are the flexible, cooperating groups of people that engage, encourage, prepare, and promote new participants. The most successful networks include successful professionals, institutional leaders, and a critical mass of peers. Successful networks offer multiple opportunities for sustained, personal attention to the new participant. An example of this network is the combination of the formal mentoring and the learning community in the SOARS program.

Enriched experience refers to outside-the-classroom opportunities, including internships with industry, research experience, and field projects. These experiences also function as bridging activities and community networks, connecting student experiences to work, establishing mentoring relationships, and opening windows on career options. In addition, enriched experiences typically offer a mode of learning-by-doing and individual attention that can be more pedagogically effective then the large lecture classes often found in traditional education.

Continuous evaluation is important because it allows programs to monitor and demonstrate their progress toward stated goals, evolve new strategies and refine existing strategies, and reward successful participants. As an example of a particularly comprehensive and effective evaluation, we will describe the ethnographic evaluation of the SOARS program with consisted of over 201 hour-plus interviews with SOARS participants both students and mentors.

The talk will conclude by describing how to set ambitious yet attainable goals for broadening participation in the atmospheric and related sciences, and offer some discussion of how these strategies might be more widely disseminated.