Broadening Participation and Engagement of Students from Racial and Ethnic Groups Underrepresented in STEM and the Geosciences via a Near Surface Geophysics Field Experience

Dr. Kristina Keating
Monday, May 3, 2021 · 1:00 pm

In the United States at the undergraduate level, the geosciences lag behind other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields when it comes to the racial and ethnic diversity of students. This deficit is particularly notable for students who from racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields and translates to a lag at the graduate level. Research has shown that diversity has demonstrated benefits for scientific advancement, including that diverse perspectives provide unique approaches to problem solving, which are needed to solve the complex problems we tackle in the geosciences. With the aim of recruiting, engaging, and retaining a diverse group of students in geoscience majors, we have established a field experience program that introduces students to near surface geophysics using a critical zone science context. 

Findings from the 2018 and 2019 field experiences, held in the Garner Run Subcatchment of the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) will be presented. The field experience was split into two sections. In the first section, students completed 4 exercises in 2-day rotations, led by a peer-mentors. Three exercises focused on geophysics (seismic refraction, electrical resistivity tomography, and ground penetrating radar); the fourth exercise was a surveying and mapping activity intended to strengthen the students’ quantitative and spatial reasoning skills. In the second section, students designed and implemented a field study using the tools they had learned. Scientific exercises were supplemented by team building activities and talks by professionals to expose students to the range of careers available in the geosciences. Participants learned about critical zone science from experts at the CZO and the CZO host team gained from interacting with the students who brought new perspectives to the CZO science program. Analyses of pre- and post-student surveys show that the students reported statistically significant gains in geoscience knowledge, professional skills, and known psychosocial predictors of persistence in science (e.g., science self-efficacy). Some students who participated in the field experience reported increased interest in geoscience majors or careers.