Earth science (defined here as excluding oceanic, atmospheric, and space science) plays a key role in the well-being of our nation, and many issues in its purview—including resources, the environment, and geological hazards—are expected to grow in importance in the future. Our needs for hydrocarbon, mineral, and water resources are increasing. As we turn toward nontraditional sources of hydrocarbons, such as shale gas and deep offshore oil reservoirs, and seek the metals and minerals needed to build modern electronic devices, the United States will need earth scientists not only to discover and exploit those resources but also to monitor the environmental consequences of their extraction. Similarly, earth scientists will be needed to monitor the availability and quality of water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial uses. Water is already scarce in some regions of the country, and the drought of 2012 brought into focus the sensitivity of our food supply to changing environmental conditions. Severe droughts may become more common as the climate changes (IPCC, 2012), and the geologic record provides insight on the history and extent of drought. Finally, growing numbers of people are living in geologically hazardous areas, increasing the importance of providing scientific information to help affected populations prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis, severe coastal storms, landslides, and volcanic eruptions.
Addressing these and other earth science issues requires a well-educated and -trained workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth will increase by 21 percent for geoscientists (geologists and geophysicists) and by 18 percent for hydrologists from 2010 to 2020, compared with 14 percent for all occupations.1 Despite high projected demand for earth scientists, however, the number of graduates in earth science fields has not fully recovered from a sharp decline in the early 1980s, which was caused by a loss of U.S. jobs in the petroleum and mining industries (Figure 1.1).
A robust workforce also harnesses the talents of all citizens. Although the fraction of women earning bachelor’s degrees in geoscience (earth science plus environmental, ocean, atmospheric, and climate science) has grown to 39 percent, the fraction of underrepresented minority (Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaskan Native) graduates remains about 7 percent (Gonzales and Keane,
FIGURE 1.1 Trends in the number of geoscience degrees (defined in this figure as encompassing environmental science, hydrology, oceanography, atmospheric science, geology, geophysics, climate science, geochemistry, paleontology; environmental, exploration, and technical engineering; and geoscience management) awarded at U.S. 4-year colleges from 1973 to 2009. SOURCE: Gonzales and Keane (2011).
2011). Neither population is well represented in the geoscience workforce. In 2009, women held 30 percent of environmental science and geoscience jobs and underrepresented minorities held less than 8 percent (Gonzales and Keane, 2011).
To help increase the number, quality, and diversity of earth science graduates, federal agencies that hire earth scientists are investing in a variety of education and training programs. Education funding is commonly scarce, so it is imperative that these efforts focus on programs that work. At the request of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Office of Science Quality and Integrity, the National Research Council (NRC) established a committee to carry out a study, organized around a workshop, to address the following tasks:
1. Summarize the legislative authority for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and training granted to federal agencies with substantial programs in earth science (excluding oceanic, atmospheric, and space science).
2. Examine recent earth science education programs with a research or training component, both formal and informal, in these federal agencies.
3. Identify criteria for evaluating the success of earth science education and training programs and, using these criteria and the results of previous federal program evaluations, identify examples of successful programs in federal agencies.
4. Determine what made these example programs successful (e.g., resources, themes, engagement activities, partnerships).
5. Summarize the knowledge and skills identified in recent NRC workforce reports that are needed by earth scientists in their careers.
6. Describe ways that federal agencies can leverage their earth science education and training efforts to improve their recruitment of a diverse population in both high school and college.
The committee began its work by compiling the legislative authorities granted to federal earth science agencies for STEM education (Task 1 of the committee charge) published in reports (e.g., Co-STEM, 2012) and agency planning documents. Federal agencies with substantial earth science programs include the USGS, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution. For Task 2, the committee asked these federal agencies to identify earth science education programs that have a research or training component (e.g., by providing research experiences to students). Education programs tied to research or training are commonly aimed at high school and college students, although a few agencies identified programs aimed at elementary and middle school students. Given the time and budgetary constraints for the study, the committee neither considered other programs that might be relevant to Task 2, nor culled the agency-identified programs, even though some extend beyond the traditional bounds of earth science and some are loosely connected to research or training. Managers for each program provided information requested by the committee, including the size and scope of the program, goals, successes, and methods for evaluating success and for building participation of underrepresented groups.
The federal programs and some nonfederal programs were discussed in a 2-day workshop attended by 40 experts, including managers of earth science education and outreach programs and individuals knowledgeable about education, the transition into earth science careers, and program evaluation. Workshop presentations and breakout groups focused on criteria for evaluating programs (Task 3), factors required for programs to succeed (Task 4), and successes and problems in increasing diversity (Task 6). Additional information for Task 6 was gathered from agency responses to a committee questionnaire about current and potential agency partnerships and barriers to leveraging resources. The committee used the workshop results, along with published articles and reports and the committee’s own knowledge and experience, to address Tasks 2, 3, 4, and 6.
Task 5 concerns a different aspect of earth science education: the knowledge and skills needed by earth scientists in their careers. In keeping with the charge, the committee confined its discussion to results from NRC earth science workforce reports, as described below.
Only two NRC workforce reports contain information on knowledge and skills needed for earth science careers: Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries: A Call to Action (NRC, 2013a), which covers oil and gas, mining, and geothermal energy occupations; and Future U.S. Workforce for Geospatial Intelligence (NRC, 2013b), which covers geospatial occupations. Both reports focus on the current and future availability of experts in subdisciplines of earth science for the workforce and only touch on the knowledge and skills required for jobs in these subdisciplines.
Future U.S. Workforce for Geospatial Intelligence (NRC, 2013b) examines 10 subject areas that underpin geospatial intelligence, including geodesy and geophysics. The knowledge and skills that are important for a career in geospatial intelligence are generally taught in 4-year colleges and universities and include the following:
• Geodesy: use of mathematical tools such as least-squares adjustment, Kalman filtering, and spectral analysis; the principles of gravity field theory and orbital mechanics; the propagation
of electromagnetic waves; and the theory and operation of observing instruments such as Global Navigation Satellite System receivers and inertial navigation systems
• Geophysics: mathematical training; the principles of physics; geodesy, seismology and the structure and evolution of the Earth, including plate tectonics; the theory and measurement of the Earth’s magnetic field; and space physics
The report also summarizes tiers of skills identified by the Department of Labor for the geospatial technology industry. These skills are primarily basic (e.g., interpersonal skills, effective communication, creative thinking), but also include positioning skills needed for jobs in geodesy.
Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries: A Call to Action (NRC, 2013a) examines seven industries, including the oil and gas, mining, and geothermal energy industries. Jobs in these industries generally require some college, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. The report does not discuss specific knowledge or skills needed for jobs in these industries, but notes that many energy and mining jobs require a strong foundation in STEM—including applied mathematics, reading for information, and locating information—and that people with these skills are hard to find. It also describes efforts to define STEM skills for the energy industry through, for example, competency models and certificate programs.
This report examines 25 federal earth science education and training programs, lays out a conceptual framework for thinking about how these programs fit together, and suggests ways to leverage federal resources to improve recruitment of a diverse population into earth science pathways. Chapter 2 summarizes the legislative authorities of federal agencies for STEM education and provides a brief overview of the federal earth science education and training programs considered in this report. Chapter 3 describes how these diverse programs can be linked to move students through informal and formal education toward an earth science career. It also discusses the critical incidents that can lead students to enter or exit the field. Chapter 4 summarizes principles for evaluating programs and shows how to use these principles and the conceptual framework to evaluate the success of earth science education and training programs. Finally, Chapter 5 describes steps federal agencies can take to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in earth science, particularly women and minorities. Supporting information for the chapters is provided in appendixes. Appendix A cites the legislative authorities for federal STEM education programs. Appendixes B and C contain the agenda and participants list, respectively, for the September 2012 workshop on earth science education and training programs. Appendix D summarizes evaluation information provided by managers of the 25 education programs. Biographical sketches of committee members appear in Appendix E, and a list of acronyms and abbreviations is given in Appendix F.