GSA Annual Meeting Presentations

Students of the Dahl Lab will be well represented at this year's GSA Conference in Seattle, WA! I will be talking about a part of the GEOPATHS project that I've been working on with colleagues from UC Riverside, undergraduate students Katie Brower and Chris Weer will be presenting a poster on our collections digitization project, and undergraduate student Andra Nordin will be presenting a poster on her GER project. If you're going to be at GSA, stop by and say hi!

Sunday, Oct 22




Accepting Master's Students!


I am currently accepting Master's students in both geoscience education research and paleontology for 2018. If you are interested in applying to work with me, I encourage you to read through my current research projects and interests, and to send me an email to introduce yourself.

For those interested in geoscience education research: GER spans a wide range of topics and approaches and I am open to developing projects on many different topics. My own research interests are broadly centered on studying the efficacy of digital learning in paleontology courses and in improving recruitment and retention of minoritized students in the geosciences, but we could develop projects on different GER topics if your interests lie elsewhere. I would love to discuss your ideas!

For those interested in paleontology research: While my work thus far has focused on early Paleozoic gastropods, I have started a new project examining the paleoecology of nearshore marine environments from Miocene of the Pacific Northwest. I am looking for students who are interested broadly in invertebrate marine paleoecology, with possible research projects on either early Paleozoic ecosystems (preserved in the Great Basin) or Cenozoic ecosystems (in the Pacific Northwest). 

To learn more about the MS Program in Geology at WWU, click here.

Death Valley with the GEODE Program

Before I moved here to Western, I was finishing up my PhD and managing a geoscience education program at UC Riverside. Part of that was the GEODE Program, which was focused on recruiting underrepresented minority students from the local school district and community colleges into geology by exposing them to the many rad opportunities our field has to offer and by providing them with resources to get into geology programs at four year universities like UCR.

I was really sad to leave the GEODE Program, but I've stayed involved from afar and this past week, I got to lead a field trip to Death Valley for 28 high school students from Riverside Unified School District. The trip was amazing and I will be writing more about it in the next couple of weeks, but here are photos from our trip!

Some Resources

I threw together this list of Earth Science REUs and internships for a resource roundtable this afternoon, and thought it might be a good thing post here.

National Parks Service Mosaics in Science

The Mosaics in Science Internship Program provides you that are under-represented in natural resource science career fields with on-the-ground, science-based, work experience with the National Parks Service. Established in 2013, this multidisciplinary program provides interns with opportunities to work on inventorying and monitoring, research, GIS and other technologies, and interpretation and educational projects. After the internships, a career workshop is held in Washington DC where the interns present the results of their work, are exposed to different science careers, and develop skills to apply for a federal job.

The program is administered by the NPS Geological Resources Division, in collaboration with other NPS Natural Resource Stewardship and Science offices, the NPS Youth Programs Division, and in partnership with Environment for the Americas and Greening Youth Foundation.

Applications due by Feb 6:

CWU Hazards and Risks of Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest REU

        How is our climate changing in the Pacific Northwest? How is that climate change going to to affect you and your community? Are we prepared to adapt to these changes in our climate?

        Come join us at Central Washington University for an interdisciplinary research experience where we will address these questions. Our program is open to undergraduates who are currently enrolled at two-year and four-year colleges in the Pacific Northwest, particularly students in their first and second years of college.

        Applications due by Feb 15:

Geological Society of American GeoCorps America

        GeoCorps America is a program of the Geological Society of America, operated in partnership with government agencies and other organizations committed to science and stewardship. Current partners include the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service.

        This program offers paid short-term geoscience assignments in some of the most beautiful natural areas in the world.

        Applications due by Feb 2:

NSF Earth Science REUs

        You can see all the available NSF Earth Science REUs by searching on the NSF website:

Geological Society of American On to the Future (OTF) Program

        The OTF Program is a grassroots initiative of the Geological Society of America that addresses the organization’s overall strategic commitment to building a diverse geoscience community by engaging groups traditionally underrepresented in the geosciences. The OTF Program awards partial travel grants to undergraduate and graduate students, and recent graduates studying in the geosciences, to attend their first GSA Annual Meeting.

How Many Profs of Color Are There in the Geosciences?

As a student of geology, I never had a professor of color. That's not to say none exist (I've even become one!), but I would guess that the vast major of geology students in the United States have had the same experience as I have. If you've never thought about this, it's probably because you never had to think about it, never had to feel othered, or questioned your place within our field.

I started looking for data on the ethnic and racial diversity of geoscience faculty while putting together my GSA talk a few months ago, and quickly discovered that no good data exists. NSF provides excellent data on Earth Science undergrads, graduate students, and postdocs in the annual Science & Engineering Indicators Report. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) keeps tabs on the demographics of college and university faculty but does not break down the data by subject. The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) collects data on the geoscience workforce at large, but does not provide any specific information about college and university faculty.

Better understanding the racial and ethnic demographics of geoscience faculty would be helpful in creating successful educational systems that support our students of color. Since I can't find the specific data I want, I thought I would work through some of the available data mentioned above.

Let's start with the United States as a whole. It's good to have a baseline when talking about underrepresentation. Here's what the U.S. population looks like, as of 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau:

White (not Hispanic or Latino) accounts for 61.6% of the population, Hispanic or Latino for 17.6%, Black or African American for 13.3%, Asian for 5.6%, two or more races for 2.6%, American Indian or Native Alaskan for 1.2%, and Native Hawaiian for 0.2%.

According to NCES, college and university faculty are much whiter than the U.S. population, with Profs of Color accounting for about half the share "expected" from national demographics: 

In fall 2013, there were 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions: 51 percent were full-time and 49 percent were part time
Among full-time professors, 84% were White, 4 percent were Black, 3 percent were Hispanic, and 9 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander. Making up less than 1 percent each were professors who were American Indian/Alaska Native and of Two or more races
— National Center for Education Statistics, 2015

The most recent NSF Science & Engineering indicators report suggests that Profs of Color represent about the same share of full-time Physical Sciences faculty (6.7%). API profs comprise a much larger share of full-time faculty in the Physical Sciences (16.9%) than they do in all disciplines (9%). The share of Profs of Color has grown steadily since the 70's but there is still severe underrepresentation when compared to the U.S. population as a whole.

So what can these data tell us about Profs of Color within the geosciences? Because we know that the geosciences are less diverse than Physical Sciences as a whole, we can probably assume that geoscience faculty are less diverse than Physical Sciences faculty. We can't know for sure, but I would love to get my hands on (or collect) these data for the geosciences.

As the discussion around diversity in geoscience grows, knowing where we stand is important. It's also a good reminder for existing faculty to go the extra distance to be good allies and mentor for their students of color. Even if we make a concerted effort to recruit more students of color into the geosciences, it will be a long time before we have equal representation simply because it takes a long time to educate and employ a new cohort of diverse faculty.

Recruitment vs. Retention: What's the Problem in the Earth Sciences?

Last week I wrote about the severe underrepresentation of certain minorities in the geosciences at the PhD level. The numbers were pretty dire, and this week I wanted to look at the trends in diversity leading up to PhDs. Once again, I was able to find some useful data in the NSF Science & Engineering Indicators Report. The data is categorized in a variety of redundant ways, but if you paw through the pages, you can eventually start to piece together some trends.

What I've done here is compile the percentage of degrees awarded to underrepresented minority (URM) students at the bachelor's, master's and PhD levels in: (A) All Science & Engineering fields, (B) Physical Sciences, which includes physics, astronomy, chemistry, earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, and (C) Earth Sciences. I've included Asians Americans in the URM category, even though the federal government does not, so Asian & Asian American, African American, Hispanic or Latinx, American Indian and Alaska Natives are counted as URM students here. Keep in mind that these groups account for 34.8% of the US population according to the 2010 Census.

What's clear at first glance is that underrepresentation for certain ethnic and racial groups in STEM fields starts at the undergraduate level and gets worse from there. When considering all STEM fields, URM students account for 26.48% of bachelor's degrees, 19.13% of master's degrees, and only 13.00% of PhDs. The share of bachelor's degrees is fairly close to national demographics, but the drop in master's and PhDs indicates a severe rate of attrition for URM students at the graduate level.

This pattern holds for degrees awarded in the Physical Sciences, though underrepresentation is greater. URM students account for 20.62% of bachelor's degrees, 11.40% of master's degrees and 9.13% of Phds. Looking at the NSF's data, it looks like a larger share of URM students are pursuing engineering or biology degrees than physical science.

Things get a little bit more interesting when you look only at Earth Sciences degrees. URM students account for a far smaller share of Earth Science degrees overall but there is less attrition moving through the post-secondary levels. URM students account for 9.30% of bachelor's degrees, 7.04% of master's degrees, and 5.77% PhDs. To me, this suggests that the diversity issue in the Earth Sciences is related more to poor recruitment than to retention.

This is an issue I plan to write more about in the coming weeks. I'm also interested in examining the ethnic/racial breakdown of Earth Science degrees more closely, and continuing to compare what's happening in our field to other STEM fields.

Exactly How Underrepresented are Underrepresented Students?

It's well known that the geosciences are one of the least diverse fields within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Every grant proposal I've every written hammers on this, highlighting the severe lack of diversity within the geosciences and explaining that failure to recruit students of color will ultimate result in a workforce shortage. This topic is discussed at length at conferences. Every major granting agency, from the National Science Foundation to NASA has directives to increase diversity within STEM fields (and within geosciences in particular). President Obama has even spoken about the need to develop successful methods for recruiting and educating students from minority groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields. The federal government has designated African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian and Alaskan Natives as severely underrepresented in STEM fields.

But what does "underrepresented" really mean?

I took a look at the data, provided by the annual NSF Science & Engineering Indicators Report, and found that the underrepresentation of these groups in the Earth Sciences is much worse than I had imagined.

In the past decade and a half (2000-2013), there were 6,198 doctorates awarded in the Earth Sciences. Of those doctorates, only 53 (0.86%) were earned by African Americans, 136 (2.19%) were earned by Hispanic/Latinxs, and 20 (0.32%) were earned by American Indian and Native Alaskans. To put this another way, on average, only 4 African Americans, 10 Hispanic/Latinxs, and 1 American Indian and Alaska Native earned a doctorate each year, compared to 249 white students [NOTE: I originally reported the total number, 3,481, rather than the average. This has been updated to show the correct numbers].

I've compiled the raw data, year-by-year, in the graph below. This graph shows the number of doctorates earned by underrepresented minorities. It includes Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (a single category in the NSF data) and Other/Unknown.

The first time I looked at these data, I was stunned. To see the raw numbers somehow personalizes the idea of underrepresentation. I completed my PhD last year at UC Riverside, one of the only federally-designated Hispanic Serving R1 Universities in the country. While I myself fall within this dataset ("Other/Unknown," about 25 of us graduate each year), I can't remember a single Hispanic/Latinx student earning a PhD during the 8 years I was there.

Seeing these numbers also makes me think about the future of our field, and the importance of supporting and nurturing the students of color who are working towards degrees in the geosciences. If you know an African American, Latinx or Native American graduate student in the geosciences, they are likely the only student of their race or ethnicity at your university, and they might also be the only student in their cohort in the nation. This January I will starting my new position as an Assistant Professor of Geology & Science Education at Western Washington University and I'll have these data on my mind.

Here are the numbers:

You can check out more of this data at the NSF Science & Engineering Indicators Report