support, and mentoring programs (NRC, 2007, 2011). These professional preparation opportunities help socialize students within a discipline, promote academic success, and prepare them for careers. Mentors can play a key role in providing information, guidance, and support at critical decision points in students’ careers.
• Financial programs that are based on need or are targeted at supporting undergraduate and graduate study (Smith, 1997; NRC, 2011). Affordability is key to the success of underrepresented minority students, and financial assistance is commonly required to provide access to adequate facilities, equipment, and course curricula.
• Efforts to lower barriers to the participation of underrepresented minorities in college, such as developing K–12 STEM outreach activities to cultivate potential future students; establishing strong connections between programs and institutions; and developing, implementing, and enforcing admissions policies that increase diversity of the student population (NRC, 2007, 2011). Such efforts address some of the system-level challenges described in Chapter 3.
The above programs open doors of opportunity to underrepresented minorities, but they could also help attract and retain students of all backgrounds. An example discussed at the workshop is GeoFORCE, a program established at the University of Texas in 2005 and aimed at bringing young people, particularly underrepresented minorities, into earth science.2 The program engages more than 600 eighth-grade students in summer field trips that introduce earth science concepts and emphasize hands-on science. Student cohorts continue through high school, building a foundation of geology expertise and a community that is sustained through a support network of peer cohorts, their adult mentors, and college students who previously participated in the program. Students also receive resources and mentoring to help them prepare for college, apply for admission and financial aid, and find summer internships and jobs.
GeoFORCE recruits girls and boys in high-minority, economically disadvantaged regions. In inner-city Houston, the school population is 35 percent Black, 61 percent Hispanic, and 82 percent economically disadvantaged. Between 40 percent and 65 percent of ninth graders fail to complete high school. In the rural southwest, 90 percent of students are Hispanic and 78 percent are economically disadvantaged. Dropout rates (5–45 percent) are substantially lower than in Houston, but less than 15 percent of adults have college degrees. In contrast, all students in the GeoFORCE program have graduated from high school and 97 percent have entered college.3 Two-thirds of the college students are STEM majors, including 12 percent in earth science. These figures are significantly higher than national averages.
Research suggests that programs that have increased the number of minority students graduating in STEM fields commonly take a comprehensive approach that includes the integration of students into college academic and social systems, the development of knowledge and skills, and support, mentoring, monitoring, and advising (e.g., Tinto, 1987; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997; Maton et al., 2000; Matsui et al., 2003). Lessons learned from federal earth science education and training programs also suggest that certain factors are important for creating success. Factors for success discussed at the committee’s workshop are summarized in Box 5.2 and factors important for the success of projects in National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) Program are summarized in Box 5.3.