GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 329-3
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


JAIMES, Patricia, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences- Geocognition Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, LIBARKIN, Julie C., Geocognition Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48823 and MCCALLUM, Carmen, Educational Leadership, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197, Patricia

The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce lacks diversity. Earth System Science (ESS), the discipline responsible for investigating the interactions between rock, water, and life, as well as protecting our municipal water supplies and the management of natural resources, is the least diverse of all the STEM fields. The 2013 National Survey of Graduate Students and Postdocs in Science and Engineering indicates that less than 8% of all graduate students in ESS are Hispanic, Native American, or African American. Other forms of diversity, such as disability, are also poorly represented in ESS. The lack of diversity represents a loss of potential scientific talent in the field of ESS. At the same time, the field is expected to experience a workforce crisis in the near future due to the impending retirement of baby-boomers. Identifying ways to increase diversity could help ameliorate the workforce shortage.

This qualitative study sought to address the overarching problem of the lack of diversity in ESS by using the lens of community cultural wealth to: (1) understand how majority and minority ESS students move through academic and professional transition points and (2) how they choose their career paths. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 individuals at the end of their undergraduate and graduate (MS) academic careers. Interviews explored the types of capital that assist students in pursuing an ESS career. Thematic content analysis allowed codes to emerge from interview transcripts and intraclass correlation was used as a measure of inter-rater reliability. Findings suggest that social, cultural, navigational and aspirational capital play a major role in how students pursue career goals. Findings from this study can be used to generate innovative approaches to recruiting and retaining students that ESS needs for the field to meet the workforce demands of the future.