GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 187-4
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM


BAUMANN, Sarah P, Geology Department, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave, St. Paul, MN 55105 and WIRTH, Karl R., Geology Department, Macalester College, Saint Paul, MN 55105,

The participation of underrepresented groups in the geosciences (<8% of the geoscience workforce) is a national concern for the future and vitality of the discipline. In addition to simply increasing the size of the workforce, greater diversity strengthens its vitality and brings novel approaches to solving problems and communicating with the public. The goal of this study is to better understand the factors affecting participation, recruitment, and retention into the geoscience major.

We used institutional (IPEDS, admissions, fall census, graduation rates), survey (majors, non-majors, and students who have never taken a geoscience course), and interview (majors and non-majors) data from a small liberal arts college in the upper Midwest. Between 2011 and 2015 participation in each step of the undergraduate geoscience pathway (e.g., enrolling in a geoscience first year seminar, electing to major in the geosciences, completing the geoscience major) varies greatly among different demographic groups. Whereas female students enroll in geoscience classes (56% of students in classes) at a slightly lower than representative rates (58% of students at the college are female), they make up a larger portion of students who complete the major (61%). Students of color also enroll in classes at a high rate (18% in geoscience classes vs. 14% at the school) but they do not elect to major in geology (7% of geoscience majors). International students make up a large portion of the college (12%) but they are not attracted to geoscience courses nor to major in geoscience (4% and 2% respectively).

Our results indicate that underrepresentation is more a challenge of participation and recruitment than of retention. Although a first-year seminar program is an effective recruitment tool, more must be done. Three key themes – community, curricular sequencing and design, and an understanding of the geoscience discipline – emerge from this study as important factors affecting participation, recruitment, and retention into the geosciences. In particular, a fundamental understanding of the nature of the discipline seems to have a critical role in recruitment to the geology major. Curricular sequencing and design, along with the importance of community, are important factors in the decision to remain on the geoscience pathway.