The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a grant this September to fund a program in the earth sciences department at Wooster with the goal of increasing the number of students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds earning earth sciences degrees and supporting them throughout college.
“We are hoping to engage all first-year students who are interested in STEM, especially those students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups who may not have ever considered earth sciences as a pathway,” said Meagen Pollock, the associate professor of earth sciences and principal investigator for the program, pictured above with students in her Earth Materials Class in the fall of 2019. “This grant allows us to provide students with authentic, hands-on experiences early in their academic journey, helping them become aware of geoscience careers and equipping them with skills that are directly transferrable to the workforce.”
Pollock and her co-principal investigator Greg Wiles, the Schoolroy Chair of Natural Resources and professor of earth sciences, decided there was a need for this program after noticing the demographics of earth science majors at the College. “We observed that the racial and ethnic diversity of our introductory courses was representative of the diversity of Wooster’s student body, but didn’t translate to the diversity of our majors,” Pollock said. “Somewhere between the introductory course and the major, many students from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups decided that earth sciences wasn’t for them.”
Prior to receiving the NSF grant, the earth sciences department was already taking steps to become more inclusive through revising the curriculum, becoming involved with Wooster’s STEM Success Initiative which promotes a diverse STEM learning community, and recruiting diverse teams of students for experiential learning projects. This grant will allow the department to further develop these initiatives and ensure that they remain in place. “We proposed to grow our program, establish it more permanently, and create long-term opportunities to support students in the future,” Pollock said. “This grant will create experiential learning opportunities for Wooster students in the summer and throughout the academic year. As students progress through the program, they can become peer mentors, creating a supportive cohort that moves through their college experiences together.”
Pollock said that supporting underrepresented earth sciences majors reflects the values of the department. “It is part of our message that geoscience is for everyone. We think it is important to recognize diverse scientists and career paths, help students learn about what they can do with a geosciences degree, and help them develop their identities as scientists,” Pollock explained. “It is also important to reach out and support first-year students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, so that they know that they’re not alone in STEM, that they’re right where they need to be, and that we’re here to help them succeed.”
Above: Professor Pollock works with students in her Earth Materials Class in the fall of 2019.