The second task of the committee was to examine federal earth science education programs with a research or training component. The programs, which are summarized in Chapter 2, are commonly aimed at a specific goal, such as attracting underrepresented groups to earth science, teaching laboratory or field skills, or providing job experiences. As pointed out at the workshop, however, they can also contribute to the larger goal of building the earth science workforce (Box 3.1). This chapter describes a framework for thinking about federal earth science education and training programs in the context of a larger system that moves individuals from inter-
BOX 3.1 Workshop Discussions on an Education Program Framework and Critical Incidents
Key points raised by individuals at the workshop included the following:
• The need for a community model or framework of programs that engages students and leads them from awareness to employment in earth science.
• Understanding critical incidents that persuade individuals to enter earth science (e.g., hiking with families, nature books, earth science classes) or cause them to leave it, which can inform creation of a program framework.
• The importance of connecting programs along the pathways to earth science careers, offering multiple and varied education opportunities, and facilitating students’ movement along the pathways.
• Ways to take advantage of the unique aspects of earth science (e.g., connection to land and place, adventurous or outdoors nature, systems thinking) to engage and create a science-literate public.
est to employment in earth science. The paths of individuals through the system vary, as do their entry and exit points. The chapter concludes with a discussion of critical incidents: the events and influences on people’s lives that lead them to pursue particular educational paths toward a career.
Preparing a student for the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce commonly takes place over years or even decades and requires training and experience from a variety of programs, institutions, and individuals. Individuals become interested in a STEM discipline in different ways and at different times. Once that interest is sparked, it must be nurtured through opportunities to explore and learn about the discipline, to develop and practice skills, to obtain guidance, and to investigate job opportunities. The particular paths of individuals from interest to employment will depend on factors such as their specific interests, the educational and workforce opportunities available to them, and the needs and expectations of their families (Lent et al., 1994, 2000, 2008; Houlton, 2010; Maltese and Tai, 2010, 2011). Thus, preparation of the future workforce can be thought of as a system of opportunities and experiences that link together in ways that enable individuals to move from their own entry point through a series of experiences that prepare them for employment that they will find rewarding, and ultimately into the workforce.
This system of opportunities and experiences in earth science is illustrated in Figure 3.1, which was developed based on the experience of committee members and workshop participants. In this framework, individuals first become aware of earth science, then engage in learning the field, and eventually prepare for a career by acquiring specialized knowledge, skills, and expertise and by exploring different employment options. The framework is portrayed as a triangle because more individuals will develop an interest in earth science than will become engaged in the field, and more will become engaged in the field than will pursue professional preparation and employment.
Different types of education and training opportunities are represented by the upward-pointing polygons in Figure 3.1. Programs with multiple goals or audiences can span more than one stage of the framework (e.g., classes raising awareness of earth science may be taught at elementary to college levels). The programs may also play multiple roles because individuals bring different goals and experiences to the opportunity (e.g., a research opportunity may be used by students to prepare for the profession or to obtain skills and recommendations needed for graduate school). Figure 3.1 shows where these earth science education programs are commonly placed; the exact placement of a particular program will depend on its target audience and goals.
Of course, the paths that individuals actually take are often more complicated than is implied in Figure 3.1. The pathway from interest to employment can be full of twists, turns, and detours, and individuals may enter or leave the path at different points. Moreover, Figure 3.1 does not show a critical third dimension: the specific area of earth science in which the student specializes. As students progress upward to prepare for employment, they also move laterally along this third dimension as their interests develop. For example, a student may first become interested in earth science through an introductory course on the geology of national parks. As she learns more about the earth sciences, she might become particularly interested in the hydrology of water resources and begin to prepare for graduate work in this area. A summer research experience in this field might confirm this interest or reveal a stronger interest in the geochemistry of water. After a master’s program and internship, she may embark on a career focused on cleanup of mine drainage. Connections between opportunities and movement in all three dimensions are integral to creating the range of skills and expertise needed by the modern workforce.
Although this report focuses on high school and college programs that prepare students for the workforce, the full framework is outlined because programs for older students depend on pro-
FIGURE 3.1 Conceptual framework illustrating the types of programs and experiences (tapering polygons) that help move individuals along a pathway from awareness of earth science (base of the triangle) to the earth science workforce (apex of the triangle). Relevant programs include those provided as part of a student’s formal education, educational programming offered outside of the formal system, and informal learning opportunities. Polygons are not drawn to scale, but their vertical extent is intended to show that some education opportunities span more than one stage of the framework and their relative horizontal extent is intended to show that more individuals participate in awareness activities than in professional preparation activities.
gramming at lower levels. The general stages that students follow through the system are described below.
Federal Programs in the Context of the Framework
Federal education and training programs contribute to all stages of the framework, from interesting students in earth science to education and outreach programs to providing internships, traineeships, and research opportunities within federal agencies. Figure 3.2 shows the federal earth science education and training programs described in Chapter 2 in the context of the committee’s framework. The roles of these programs in the various stages of the framework are described below. Although many of the programs span more than one stage of the framework, each is given as an example only once below.
Awareness arises from activities that bring earth science to the attention of an individual. A robust set of educational pathways includes a diversity of mechanisms for bringing earth science awareness to the widest possible spectrum of individuals—including K–12 and undergraduate students, and parents and other adults—at different times. Converting awareness to interest may
FIGURE 3.2 Placement of the federal earth science education and training programs considered in this report in the committee’s conceptual framework. Because of space constraints, programs that have a small earth science component (Smithsonian LASER program) or that were one-time competitions (National Science Foundation’s GEO-Teach Program) are not shown.
require a series of positive experiences. Productive mechanisms for developing awareness include introducing earth science concepts in formal education; informal learning in museums, after-school programs, and clubs; and individual exploration through books or other media. Informal learning is particularly important for building awareness of earth science, which is not widely taught in school (Underwood, 2008; Windschitl et al., 2008). Because parents are gatekeepers to young students’ access to informal education, earth science programs for families are important.
Federal agencies play a major role in developing earth science awareness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 4-H club offers activities that span a wide range of topics, including earth science, to large populations of youths. The National Park Service organizes National Fossil Day, which focuses attention on fossils in schools, in informal settings, and through the media. Its Teachers-in-Parks Program engages teachers in developing awareness-building materials for use both in the park and in school districts nearby.
In the engagement stage, students actively engage in learning about the Earth and earth science by choosing earth science activities or study. Engagement can be fostered through activities that are relevant to students, that give them a sense of contributing to their community or to society at large, that engage them in solving problems they find interesting, or that allow them to synthesize and make use of prior learning (PCAST, 2012). Middle school, high school, and college are
important venues for fostering engagement. In these settings, a student has an opportunity to learn about the discipline in a structured way. Activities such as science fair projects, course projects, or service learning projects support students’ active engagement in problem solving using earth science methods and habits of mind. Shadowing earth science professionals or doing internships provides opportunities to build understanding of the profession as well as to develop an identity as a future earth scientist.
Federal agencies offer a variety of engagement programs and also play an indirect role in engagement by providing public access to their data. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Youth Internship Program helps students learn more about earth science through internships and project-based learning. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) GEO-Teach Program funded the development of curricula aimed at increasing the use of data-rich activities and pedagogies that engage students in formal education at all levels. Projects supported by NSF’s Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences program include those aimed at expanding the participation of underrepresented groups in earth science. The GeoFORCE program, funded partly by the USGS, engages high school students in mentored, immersive summer field experiences.
The transition from engagement to professional preparation is not a distinct event but rather a shift in an individual’s education strategy and focus. It occurs when an individual changes his or her view from an exploration of earth science to the acquisition of knowledge, skills, abilities, and professional attitudes needed for a particular type of job. The path may be short (e.g., an adult returning to school for new professional training) or long (e.g., a student exploring various interests, settling into a course of study, and then seeking a job). At this stage, students with different employment goals will select different programs or different electives within a major. Club activities, cohort groups, speakers, professional society meetings, career counseling, and mentoring help students identify and then obtain the expertise, confidence, and other professional attributes they will need in their desired job. Research experiences and internships allow students to explore their interest in a particular aspect of the field, to build data collection and analysis skills, and to develop higher-order thinking skills and expertise in a specialty area. Undergraduate and graduate internships and postdoctoral positions introduce students to job opportunities and employers and help crystallize work abilities, interests, and values. Programs that attend to both cognitive and affective skills are particularly important for underrepresented groups (e.g., Jolly et al., 2004; NRC, 2011).
Federal agencies play a key role in offering research opportunities for undergraduate students. NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program funds the participation of undergraduates in research projects. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship Program and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Science Undergraduates Laboratory Internships bring students to work with scientists at agency facilities. The USGS Cooperative Field Training Program and DOE’s Summer of Applied Geophysical Experience Program allow undergraduates to work on hands-on projects with agency scientists.
Federal agencies also offer internships and transitional employment opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students. For example, the USGS Hydrologic Technician Internship Program and DOE’s Community College Internships Program are aimed at drawing future technicians from the 2-year college system, and the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program is aimed at developing field mapping expertise, a critical skill for the USGS scientific workforce. These programs target different educational levels, areas of the country, and skills in ways that will help move students into different parts of the federal workforce.
The federal earth science education and training programs described above operate largely in isolation from one another, making it more difficult for program managers to find gaps among the collective programs. Moreover, the burden of finding a path from one opportunity to another rests heavily on students, who have only limited knowledge and experiences to draw on, and their advisors, who are most aware of opportunities and pathways in their own specialties. As a result, opportunities are missed to entrain and retain talented students.
Increasing the size and diversity of the earth science workforce requires not only a variety of education and training programs, but also interactions among programs to support the movement of students from interest to employment. Connecting educational and training opportunities to employers would enable the system to be responsive to changing workforce needs. For example, growth of the solar power and electronics industries, which depend on particular rare earth elements and metals, could increase demand for economic geology graduates.
Networks are a primary mechanism for connecting diverse activities, programs, and organizations. Some types of earth science networks are already in place. For example, major petroleum companies tend to recruit at a particular set of academic institutions, particularly in the Gulf Coast area. At the national level, professional societies such as the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union connect students with potential employers and graduate schools across the country by advertising job openings and providing a venue for interviews. The American Geosciences Institute provides online resources for students and families, describing career pathways for earth scientists. Although these networks are useful, stronger and more systematic connections are needed to create synergies between programs and to support the movement of students through the system of opportunities.
Opportunities that interest students in local jobs are valuable. However, the nature of the earth science workforce varies by region. Lack of national networks can limit student opportunities by making it difficult for them to move from education in one part of the country to employment in another, or to find jobs in specialties that are not represented in their local educational institution or community. For example, if all petroleum geologists are trained in Texas, earth science students in New England are unlikely to know much about the oil and gas industry. This geographic focus limits not only the potential workforce, but also the ability of students to appreciate the needs, challenges, and contributions of the various earth science specialties.
A connected system of opportunities is particularly important for attracting and retaining students from underrepresented groups (NRC, 2011). Jolly et al. (2004) found that a combination of engagement (defined as awareness, interest, and motivation to study the field), capacity (knowledge and skills), and continuity (institutional and programmatic opportunities, material resources, and guidance) is necessary to keep underrepresented students on a path to a science career. They also found that access to networks is the key to continuity. Cultural and ethnic affinity organizations (e.g., SACNAS, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, National Association of Black Geoscientists) and other groups are addressing this challenge by building networks for underrepresented students. However, a system of earth science education and training opportunities would benefit all students.
Linkages between the various education opportunities can be strengthened by increasing the visibility and person-to-person connections between programs. For example, a more systemic approach to advertising education and training opportunities (e.g., by creating a central listing of available internships) and illustrating educational pathways to employment (e.g., by expanding competency frameworks)1 could improve the ability of students to navigate through programs. Connecting federal programs to 2-year colleges, which play a key role in preparing students for a
bachelor’s degree, would also help students move along earth science pathways. Increasing opportunities for program leaders to interact with one another could strengthen connections between programs. Establishing such mechanisms would require the collective effort of federal agencies, professional societies, nongovernmental organizations, educational institutions, and employers.
Students enter and leave earth science at different points and for different reasons. The specific events that lead people into certain career and educational paths are commonly referred to as critical incidents. The idea was pioneered by Flanagan (1954) and has been formalized into a social science research methodology known as the critical incident technique.
A handful of studies have investigated the specific factors and pathways by which students discover and pursue formal education in earth science. Levine et al. (2007) and Houlton (2010) identified a series of specific incidents, decision moments, or events that strongly influenced students to choose earth science as an undergraduate major and career path. These studies involved relatively small samples: 17 earth science students in the midst of their undergraduate education at two major midwestern research universities (Houlton, 2010) and 14 earth science faculty members and other professionals who are also ethnic minorities (Levine et al., 2007). The subjects of the latter study were from diverse backgrounds and were educated in a wide array of universities in the United States. The goal of these studies was to carry out a detailed and relatively deep qualitative analysis of the common pathways and significant moments that lead people into earth science, not to provide a statistically significant, generalizable model of earth science career choices and critical incidents. Nevertheless, the results of the two studies were consistent, potentially revealing some broad outlines of common career pathways in earth science.
Figure 3.3 illustrates the general pathway from interest to education to employment in earth science, which can be seen as parallel to a student’s journey through the conceptual framework
FIGURE 3.3 Schematic illustration of the path from informal and formal education in earth science to a career in academia, industry, or government (boxes connected by horizontal arrows). Critical incidents (listed in the boxes) draw some students to the path relatively late (text at the bottom of the figure). Exits to an earth science career can be made from multiple places along the path (right two boxes and text at the top of the figure), depending on the degree requirements of the position. SOURCE: Modified from Houlton (2010).
discussed above. Students may enter the path at several points, often prompted by one or more critical incidents that raise awareness of earth science or increase interest and engagement in the field. Similarly, there are multiple exit points from formal education to an earth science career, depending on the degree requirements of the position, which range from associate’s degrees for technicians to doctorates for researchers.
Entry to Earth Science
Results from Levine et al. (2007) and Houlton (2010) suggest that the pathway into earth science differs for two populations: (1) individuals who reach the awareness and engagement stages before they reach college (“natives” in Figure 3.3); and (2) individuals who find their way to the field much later, in college or even in postgraduate work (“immigrants” in Figure 3.3). Many of these latecomers discover the field through an outstanding introductory earth science course taken during their undergraduate work. This result echoes the widespread anecdotal experience of earth science faculty, who often characterize geology, geophysics, and related fields as discovery majors. The strongest influences on students’ choice in the major are friends, family, schoolteachers, and previous courses; weaker influences include faculty advisors, other faculty members, and professional advisors (Hoisch and Bowie, 2010).
The Houlton (2010) study found that certain critical incidents raise awareness of earth science or prompt decisions to enter the field, and that these incidents differ for the two populations. For students in the study who became interested in earth science early in life, an innate interest was fostered by incidents such as family trips to geologically interesting locations or by personal experience of a natural disaster. Nearly all of the critical incidents for this group were extracurricular in nature, perhaps reflecting the relatively sparse treatment of earth science in the K–8 science curriculum (Windschitl et al., 2008; AGI, 2012) and the absence of earth science courses in many high schools.
In college, students with prior interest in earth science and those who later discovered the field were drawn to pursue earth science degrees by outstanding introductory courses with integrated lab or field experience (akin to moving from awareness to engagement in the framework). A common ingredient for all students in the Houlton (2010) and Levine et al. (2007) studies was that these courses were taught by talented, energetic, and engaging instructors. These outstanding introductory courses may be a major gateway for the field, potentially at the undergraduate and graduate level. Once in an earth science major, faculty engagement in the classroom and the field continued to be important for retaining students in the discipline and encouraging them to pursue a career. Frequent access to information about pathways toward the workforce, in the form of course material, internships, or research opportunities, was also important. In the context of the framework, these types of interactions move students from engagement to professional preparation.
Exits from Earth Science
Critical incidents and other factors may discourage students from continuing study and a career in earth science. Although studies of reasons for leaving earth science are sparse, analyses of other scientific and engineering disciplines have identified a wide variety of factors that contribute to students leaving the field, such as inadequate precollege preparation, lack of funding for research involving students, negative classroom experiences with peers or faculty, inadequate faculty advice or support, and a culture of competition (e.g., Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).
Federal earth science education and training programs can be considered in the context of a framework that introduces individuals to earth science and then engages them in learning the discipline and acquiring the specialized knowledge, skills, and expertise they will need for an earth science career. Although the actual path from awareness to employment is often more complex, this framework is useful for organizing the various types of learning opportunities and their intended outcomes.
A rich variety of federal earth science education and training programs exists at every stage of the framework. The federal programs are usually developed and run in isolation, but connecting them into a system would serve agency needs as well as foster development of the workforce. Connecting federal programs and complementary programs offered by other organizations with employers would help the system respond to changing workforce needs. Stronger and more visible connections between programs would help students find a path to an earth science career. Such networks are particularly important for attracting and retaining underrepresented groups in earth science.
Critical incident analysis may offer insight on the types of programs that attract and retain students in earth science. A few studies on critical incidents in earth science studies suggest that two populations enter earth science pathways: (1) those who discover an interest in earth science before they reach college, commonly through extracurricular activities; and (2) those who become interested in college, often through an outstanding introductory class. These two populations of potential earth scientists pose recruitment and retention challenges because awareness and engagement opportunities must be pitched to both precollege and college students. Students exit from formal education in earth science for different reasons and at different times. The multiple entry and exit points along earth science pathways underscores the need for a wide range of education and training programs that can attract different populations of potential earth scientists at different times, and for linkages between these programs that facilitate the movement of students into earth science careers.