To engage underrepresented persons in the Earth Science enterprise, the 2010 - 2015 Increasing Diversity in Earth Sciences (IDES) Program was a partnership between community colleges, two 4-year universities, state and federal agencies, and centers of informal education in Oregon. Built around a proven model of tiered mentoring, interactive student cohort, research and education internships, and financial support, IDES had two primary goals: 1) to increase the number of students from under-represented groups who pursue careers in Earth Science research and education, and 2) to strengthen the understanding of Earth Sciences and their relevance to society among broad and diverse segments of the population.
Central to the program was a two-year (academic years and summers) mentored research experience within a cohort-centered support system. Our strategy was to instill basic geospatial analysis tools in each participant and allow them to explore Earth Science topics of personal interest under the supervision/collaboration of a mentor. Each of the participants has received basic training in GIS and image analysis. They also participated in field trips to introduce them to key Earth Science concepts on the Oregon Coast and the Cascade Mountain range.
They all participated in their mentored research experiences gaining valuable experience in conducting research in geosciences. A total of 41 participants were recruited in four annual cohorts from 2010 to 2013. 34 of the participants were from under-represented segments of the STEM population, with 19 (47%) from minority ethnicities. 59% of the participants were female. 34 (83%) of the participants have each completed two-years in the program and 30 have completed their BS degrees. 13 of these have enrolled in graduate school and 13 are on full-time employment. GPA’s at the time of application ranged from 2.5 to 4.0, with 24% of recruits having between 2.5 and 3.1, 37% between 3.1 and 3.5, and 39% with >3.6. No correlation between success metrics (graduation, enrollment in graduate school, employment) and GPA-on-entry have been found. Several themes emerged from the participant interviews as contributing to their success.
The availability of research experiences “locally” was critical to many of these non-traditional students who are place-bound and the financial support allowed them to focus on academic work. Expanded opportunities for community college transfer students gave them a reason to be at a 4-year institution and solidified their academic interests. Being part of a peer-group and cohort that provided a support system that reduced “transfer shock”. Research experiences led to participants becoming an ‘expert’, resulting in increased self-confidence and personal acknowledgement. Along with an expended professional network, acquired skills enhanced participants competitiveness for graduate school and employment. Inclusion of families in the research symposia made for a rich and successful program. Community college partners were enthusiastic about the benefits to the students participating in IDES. They found that IDES participants inspired their peers and the IDES program made the Community Colleges more ‘connected’ to research organizations in the area 35 mentors from the two research universities, and partner federal, state and local agencies participated in IDES. They were explicit in giving student interns credit for doing projects of value to their groups.
They found IDES interns to have skills that allowed them to have significant roles in projects including being part of the decision-making in some organization’s strategic planning. Several students authored publications and productivity rose during the multi-year project as students became more proficient with time. The 4-year university research mentors, project staff, and university administrators, noted the growth of students ability to do research over time. University researchers who do not normally interact with undergraduates have enjoyed being with these undergraduates. All these research groups found that having IDES ‘pre-select’ interns through the internal selection process gave them a person with good skills and resulted in enhanced productivity.
The IDES program has provided Oregon State University with a model program to target undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds and diverse ethnicity to engage in research. Some of the IDES program characteristics are embedded in a new OSU program to enhance diversity (OSU STEM leaders) but the new program focuses on short-term support after entering OSU. Perhaps a most important outcome is the strong partnership that has developed between with local community colleges and state and federal agencies, that should result in IDES principles being sustainable.