Geo-Needs meeting participants developed models of stakeholder engagement at 2-year and minority-serving institutions. Credit: Xai Her

Geoscience occupations are critical to the nation’s economy and welfare, yet when compared with the other natural sciences, the geosciences have the lowest participation by persons of African American, Hispanic, and Native American/Alaskan descent. Reaching this untapped human potential will help sustain the geoscience workforce. In addition, it will allow members of diverse and often disadvantaged communities to tackle their own environmental justice issues related to energy, land use, and water quality instead of relying on “outsider” expertise.

Institutions serving underrepresented students rarely offer geoscience courses or degree programs.

Federal agencies have been investing in geoscience teaching and learning resources for many years, but 2-year colleges (2YCs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are not making full use of these resources. Institutions serving underrepresented students rarely offer geoscience courses or degree programs.

Through a series of focus group meetings, the Geo-Needs project explored barriers and opportunities for enhancing geoscience instruction at 2YCs and MSIs. Stakeholder groups that directly affect the development, marketing, and use of existing educational resources in the geosciences were chosen to participate in the 2015 meetings. The 5–7 August session brought together 22 administrators and instructors from 2YC and MSI institutions. The 9–11 August session gathered 19 geoscience educational resource providers and geoscience and education researchers. Geo-Needs will host a final workshop in July at the 2016 Earth Educators Rendezvous in Madison, Wis.

Meeting participants analyzed the gap between the current state of geoscience opportunities at 2YCs and MSIs and the desired state and discussed how to bridge that gap. Attendees engaged in prompted discussions, gallery walks (where participants view and write comments on a series of posters), and brainstorming sessions. They also built and recorded knowledge using individual- and group-authored Web pages, which will serve as resource material for an upcoming public website. A main focus of the meeting was developing an ideal system model of how key stakeholder groups could collaboratively promote and sustain geosciences at underserved institutions.

Participants in the four focus group meetings made the following recommendations:

  • Rather than focusing on producing additional educational resources, provide instructors with professional development on how to adapt existing resources for local settings. Place-based learning grounded in local contexts is particularly effective in making geoscience accessible to minority students.
  • Build regional partnerships between 2YCs and MSIs and research-focused universities, as well as partnerships between faculty, instructors, and administrators from 2YC and MSI institutions in developing educational products. This is critical to ensuring the successful launch and sustained use of these products.
  • Identify relevant theoretical frameworks needed to advance research on diversity in the geosciences. The community has snapshots of “what works” in specific contexts but lacks data needed to fully understand pathways to the geosciences taken by underrepresented students.

Meeting participants acknowledged a need to improve the public perception of geosciences as a profession that is integral to society.

In the evaluation, meeting participants acknowledged a need to improve the public perception of geosciences as a profession that is integral to society. Additional information, outcomes, reports, and a comprehensive collection of resources suggested by participants for broadening participation in the geosciences are available on the Geo-Needs project website.


Support for Geo-Needs is provided by the National Science Foundation under grants DUE-1445227, DUE-1445228, DUE-1445182, and DUE-1445210.

—Heather Petcovic, Geosciences Department and the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo; email:; Sheldon Turner, Science Department, Triton College, River Grove, Ill.; and Nicole LaDue, Geology and Environmental Geosciences Department, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb

Citation: Petcovic, H., S. Turner, and Nicole LaDue (2016), Promoting geosciences at minority-serving and 2-year colleges, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO045647. Published on 15 February 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0
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