The GeoCAT Project: A New Approach to Increasing Diversity in Geosciences in Kansas



People of color are historically underrepresented in the field of geosciences. In 2019, Dr. Aida Farough, Geology Professor at K-State, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to fund the Geoscience Career Ambassador Training, also known as GeoCAT, which aims to “increase participation of underrepresented populations in geosciences in Kansas



Hi KACEE Community, my name is Aida Farough and I’m a faculty member in the Geology department at K-State. I’m also the lead academic advisor in geology, and over the last few years I noticed a troubling trend: there is a real lack of racial, ethnic and gender diversity among geology majors at K-State. I also noticed that, in general, students lack knowledge about the variety of careers within the geosciences field. To help address these issues, I initiated an effort to increase the diversity in geosciences in Kansas. 



On board deep sea scientific drilling vessel, Joides Resolution, measuring seismic properties of rock cores drilled from an underwater volcano called Brothers Volcano located off the coast of New Zealand.

Through my research, I learned that this problem is not limited to Kansas. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) reports that, of all the STEM majors at all levels of higher education, geosciences have the lowest ethnic and racial diversity. Geoscientists are currently 91.8% White, 4% African-American, 2.7% Asian and 4.1% Hispanic/Latino.


Studies have shown that increasing diversity results in increased innovation. The nature of the diversity problem in geosciences is complex, and a solution has been elusive. Lack of pre-college exposure to geosciences; inadequate teacher preparation in schools that serve minority populations; stereotyping; imposter syndrome; perception of decreased societal contribution; lack of awareness of, and interest in, the geosciences; and lack of knowledge of clear career paths are some of the factors that have contributed to this complexity.



Representing and introducing the NASA DEVELOP program to K-State students during a career workshop.

To begin addressing the lack of diversity in geosciences, my colleagues and I came up with and have been working on a very exciting professional development opportunity called The Geosciences Careers Ambassador Training (GeoCAT) project, which now has the support and backing of the National Science Foundation.


The goal of GeoCAT is to increase interest and enrollment of diverse populations in geosciences across the state through training Kansas high school and community college science teachers, advisors, and 4-H volunteers on the broad possibilities for careers in geosciences. Through GeoCAT, educators will also learn strategies to combine cultural competencies with the knowledge of geoscience as a career potential, fostering long-term institutional change that will contribute to diversity in geosciences in Kansas into the future.



On board Japanese deep-sea scientific drilling vessel, Chikyu, with Mount Fuji in the background.

The GeoCAT project is aligned with the mission and vision of KACEE, in regard to providing non-biased, science-based education in order to help grow a healthy, vibrant, and resilient Kansas, particularly through professional development of educators.


We invite all Kansas high school and community college science teachers, advisors and 4-H volunteers to join us in building a strong and innovative geoscience workforce in Kansas through capturing the interest of minority students. With so many industries in Kansas depending heavily on the responsible, innovative use and management of environmental and energy resources, it is imperative that a diverse workforce is cultivated in order to meet our state’s needs.



At Mushroom Rock State Park with geology first year seminar students.

Part of the approach with GeoCAT is to revise recruitment approaches that historically have not been successful in piquing the interest of non-white students. Studies have shown that recruitment approaches highlighting attributes such as a positive undergraduate experience, desire to work outdoors, appreciation of nature, and family influences have been effective in attracting current geoscientists - 98.1% of which identify as white. This approach has long formed the basis for student recruitment. However, such attributes may not necessarily be valued as highly by racially and ethnically diverse students. Informing students of the wide variety of geoscience career opportunities and the various geoscience career paths—beyond those traditionally associated with the geosciences—are most effective in attracting minority individuals to the field.


Studies have shown that recruitment approaches highlighting attributes such as a positive undergraduate experience, desire to work outdoors, appreciation of nature, and family influences have been effective in attracting current geoscientists - 98.1% of which identify as white. This approach has long formed the basis for student recruitment. However, such attributes may not necessarily be valued as highly by racially and ethnically diverse students. Informing students of the wide variety of geoscience career opportunities and the various geoscience career paths—beyond those traditionally associated with the geosciences—are most effective in attracting minority individuals to the field.

Geosciences play a big role in the economy of Kansas. The value of nonfuel mineral production in Kansas in 2017 alone was $598 million. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports total groundwater withdrawal in Kansas in 2018 was 2.84 billion gallons/day. Between 1953-2017, there were 60 total disaster declarations in Kansas, 50 of which were natural disasters (including 33 severe storms, 13 floods, and 4 fire disasters). Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports in 2017, there were 3,380 geoscience employees in the state of Kansas with an average median salary of $76,053.



Working with the K-State geology Augmented Reality Sandbox.

The outlook for geoscience careers is promising within the U.S.; the BLS projects employment of geoscientists to grow 10% from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists in the future. A capable, diverse and enriched scientific workforce is needed to prepare and inform citizens of our nation’s challenges and vulnerabilities associated with Earth system processes, resources and natural hazards.To do this effectively, the field of geosciences must diversify to include people of all racial backgrounds, ethnicities, gender identities, and abilities.



High School and Community College Science Teachers, Advisors, and 4H Volunteers:


How can you get involved? The GeoCAT program will be holding monthly webinars between June 2020 and May 2021 to develop a community of advocates for geosciences careers. We will also have speakers and special programs each month related to STEM fields, geosciences and careers in geosciences with a focus on Kansas. To join our listserv and for more information, please complete this survey.


The Geoscience Career Ambassador Training (GeoCAT) Workshop will be held in summer 2021, at K- State in Manhattan, KS. The GeoCAT project is funded by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. This program is recognized as a Professional Development for teachers of all levels by Kansas Department of Education. Participants will receive a $500 stipend and a certificate. Participants can also earn up to 3 graduate credits from K-State.


Apply here to be considered for GeoCAT 2021 Workshop.


GeoCAT PI team: Dr. Aida Farough (afarough@ksu.edu) , Dr. Pamela Kempton, Dr. Jacqueline Spears, Dr. David Allen


If you have any questions feel free to contact geocat@k-state.edu.






[1] excludes self-employed

[2] https://www.americangeosciences.org/geoscience-currents/geoscience-kansas

[3] NCSES, 2015; Czujko and Henley, 2003; Huntoon and Lane, 2007

[4] Velasco and Velasco, 2010

[5] Huntoon et al., 2015; Riggs and Alexander, 2007; Levine et al., 2007; Sherman-Morris et al., 2013

[6] Pandya et al., 2007

[7] i.e. Holmes and O’Connell, 2005; O’Connell and Holmes, 2011; Huntoon and Lane, 2007; Levine et al., 2007




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