Earth Science Literacy
Webinar on the outcomes and next steps of the Future of Geoscience Undergraduate Education project
The interdisciplinary nature of the geosciences requires that students understand the Earth as a complex system. The NSF Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education project developed a framework for undergraduate education aimed at fostering conceptual understanding and competencies (rather than course-specific content). The project's publication Vision and Change in the Geosciences – The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education provides a comprehensive overview of this framework, as well as effective pedagogy and strategies for reducing barriers to participation of marginalized groups.
Undergraduate education focused on conceptual understanding prepares students to enter a workforce where the roles of geosciensts are fluid and always adapting to scientific, societal, and sustainability challenges. The Earth Science Literacy guide by the Earth Science Literacy Initiative details the "Big Ideas" of the geosciences. Similar guides have been created for the oceans, atmosphere, and climate. Competency in these areas will equip students to meet the critical needs of the next century, including climate change mitigation and adaption, water and energy resources, and natural hazards (AGI, Geosciences Supporting a
Thriving Society in
a Changing World, 2020).
Resources for teaching complex systems, connecting societal issues, redesigning curricula, and strengthening geoscience departments can be found at On the Cutting Edge: Strong Undergraduate Geoscience Teaching, Teach the Earth, and Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education Summit Materials.
Skill importance in the geosciences; Figures 3-2 and 3-3 from Vision and Change in the Geosciences – The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education
Resources on transferable skills:
List of geoscience skills from the Future of Geoscience Undergraduate Education Employers Workshop.
Webinar on key skills and competencies identified in the Vision and Change in the Geosciences report.
Comparison of student preparation vs. skill importance in professional positions by Heather Houlton for AGI. Click here for an accessible text-based version.
Survey templates created by AGI for assessing students' Geology/Geography technical competencies from department, faculty, and student perspectives. For more survey information, visit AGI Workforce Readiness.
Live webinar courses and asynchronous online courses by the Geoscience Online Learning Initiative (GOLI) for continuing education in the geosciences and earning transferable credentials.
The job outlook for the geoscience workforce is projected to increase by 4.9% from 2019 to 2029 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). The American Geosciences Institute has predicted a 27% loss of the existing workforce by 2029 due to retirements (Gonzales & Keane, 2020). While retirements will open up positions for geoscientists entering the workforce, new technology is also expected to compensate for the shortage of workers in the coming decade. AGI reported in Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates 2017 that hiring of new geoscience graduates had slowed in 2017, attributing this slowdown to factors including slow recovery in the energy and mining industries, uncertainty about environmental regulations, and the replacement of some geoscience jobs with machine learning processes. Shifts in national priorities and emerging concerns will shape hiring trends in geoscience industries in the future. Unforeseen factors will also contribute -- for example, read about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on young workers in the oil industry.
The geoscience workforce is dynamic and job seekers must be prepared to adapt, marketing their geoscience skills to potential employers in many intersecting fields.
Image from AGI's Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates 2017.
For an accessible version of this image, contact email@example.com.
Given the dynamic nature of the geoscience workforce, students should approach the job search with knowledge of the many geoscience industries and occupations and the competencies and skills desired by employers. This diagram by AGI shows the links between graduates from 2013-2017 with geoscience degrees (in color) to the industries (in gray) where these students were employed after graduation. The complexity of the diagram captures the complexity of the geoscience workforce -- jobs for geoscientists can be found in a variety of fields, many of which have not traditionally been considered part of the geosciences.
As the workforce continues to evolve to compensate for worker shortages, employ new technologies to do basic geoscience tasks, and adapt to the needs of the 21st century, students must be prepared to apply their geoscience skills to a range of occupations beyond the traditional fields.
Reimagining STEM Workforce Development as a Braided River, Batchelor et al. (2021). Click here for accessible text-based version.
Understanding the factors that attract students to the geosciences is crucial for growing a diverse workforce. The "Geoscience Pipeline" model has been used in the past to describe factors associated with choosing a geoscience career (Levine et al., 2007). Traditional views have suggested that a love of the outdoors, positive undergraduate experiences, and family influence are primarily responsible for attracting students to the field (Holmes & O'Connell, 2005). However, the persisting gap between white and racially or ethnically marginalized students entering geoscience programs and the workforce indicates that the traditional attractions of the geosciences are not successful at reducing barriers nor recruiting students of color (O'Connell & Holmes, 2011). The pipeline model was recently reimagined as a braided river that accommodates multiple entry points to geoscience, adapts to the needs of the field and of individuals, and represents the diversity of the geosciences (Batchelor et al., 2021).
Survey results from Carter et al. (2021), showing underrepresented minority (URM) and non-URM student ratings of statements about their "ideal career."
The emphasis on the "outdoorsy" aspects of the geosciences may in fact be a deterrent to minoritized students (Carter et al., 2021, O'Connell & Holmes, 2011; Sherman-Morris & McNeil, 2016). Further, marketing the geosciences as a field for those who love camping and hiking ignores the many geoscience roles that may involve little to no outdoor time -- for example, climate modeler, laboratory scientist, data analyst, environmental lawyer, or science journalist. Departments should instead emphasize the wide range of career opportunities available, ensuring that departmental materials include diverse examples and imagery of geoscientists working in labs, offices, and leadership positions.
Family support and perceptions of the geosciences as a low-paying, low-prestige field also negatively impact the recruitment of students, particularly those belonging to minoritized communities (O'Connell & Holmes, 2011; Sherman-Morris & McNeil, 2016; Stokes et al., 2015). Departments can improve student and family engagement by including them in department activities and sharing of career knowledge. In addition to information about salary and job prospects, the societal importance of the geosciences should also be emphasized in culturally appropriate ways, as students may be unaware of the relevance of geoscience to their communities (Sherman-Morris & McNeil, 2016). AGI's Student Recruitment webinar describes strategies for recruiting and retaining geoscience students by focusing on job prospects and workforce data.
Diversity & Inclusion
Graph from AGI, data derived from Dept. of Education IPEDS
Of all the STEM fields, the geosciences are the least diverse (Huntoon et al., 2015; Gonzales & Keane, 2020). Initiatives to support broader participation in geoscience education have led to positive outcomes (e.g., Karsten, 2019), yet the barriers minoritized students experience lead to low enrollment and retention and perpetuate the lack of diversity among graduate students, faculty, and the geoscience workforce (Gonzales & Keane, 2011, 2020). Students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community also face barriers in a field that has historically been masculine and deeply heteronormative (Olcott & Downen, 2020; Powell et al., 2020). Further, the geosciences are often considered inaccessible to individuals with disabilities (Stokes et al., 2019).
Achieving equity, diversity, and inclusion in the geosciences will require major systemic changes in our education institutions, workplaces, and society (Dutt, 2020).
Improving student diversity and inclusion at a departmental level may look different across universities, as minoritized student populations are not homogeneous and face unique challenges.
For excellent overviews of departmental strategies, see the resources listed on the right.
All geoscience departments can take the following steps toward improving the experience and retention of geoscience students:
Online Course: Unearth Your Future
This module, 3-5 hours in length, is designed for instructors to supplement their existing curriculum with geoscience careers information. Importantly, this resource was developed using Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) by design. It will provide the opportunity to introduce DEI into courses in a way that seamlessly intertwines geoscience content with concepts like mitigating microaggressions, addressing imposter syndrome, and applying active bystander intervention techniques. Enroll yourself and your students for free today!
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