December 17, 2019

Working Towards Representation in Earth Science

Posted by AGU Career Center

Earth science is an exciting field that promotes daily discovery and understanding of our planet. Topics range from analyzing historic climate patterns to uncovering the secrets of predicting the next earthquake. Through this extensive web of research, Earth scientists have managed to cover every inch of this planet in fascination and intrigue that drives them to understand more of what surrounds us. With such a vast field that promotes and drives global discovery, it’s hard to imagine why representation in the field is so low.

Earth science unfortunately lags behind all other STEM fields in achieving a diverse community according to a Nature Geoscience article and the latest AGI Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2018 report. With the field’s stagnant demographics, minorities of intersectional backgrounds can often face social roadblocks that make it difficult for them to discover their passion within the field. Minorities can encounter isolation, lack of connection, and missing representation within the classroom or workplace, making it difficult to move forward and find motivation in the Earth sciences.

Personally, coming from an underrepresented socio-economic background, these struggles were firsthand experiences for me. As an undergrad I held onto thoughts of not being a good fit for the field. I thought I couldn’t possibly connect with peers and professors who perhaps had more in common with each other than they did with me. These feelings of isolation led me to actively search for channels of support as I moved forward in the field. Through this mission I have been delighted to encounter pioneering programs across the U.S. that are taking initiative in addressing this pervasive issue. I have found that the following programs excel in providing experiences geared towards increasing minority representation and visibility at various levels of engagement within the Earth sciences.

  • UC Santa Cruz GEODES: Geologists Encouraging Openness and Diversity in the Earth Sciences (GEODES) is a UCSC on-campus organization whose series of workshops, field trips, and networking events center on addressing the ongoing social issues happening in and out of Earth science. Throughout my time with GEODES I was given space to share my experiences and thoughts about race, sexuality, labels, and more with faculty and students. The ability to create a space where everyone’s voice is equally heard is critical, and GEODES is exceptional in ensuring that everyone in the department has a place to hear stories from all walks of life, reminding us that we are not just faculty or students, but ordinary people.
    While this graduate student-led organization is still growing and evolving at UCSC, having a GEODES group can serve other institutions well by fostering a more welcoming space in the Earth sciences. Department-based organizations like GEODES are helping the field move towards having these important social conversations at a critically personal level in college.
  • NSF REUs: The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsors numerous Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) sites at research institutions across the U.S. While the aim of this program is to give research opportunities to students who are interested in pursuing an advanced degree, the program also excels in providing students a framework for strong community building. I was fortunate enough to partake in two REUs while an undergrad and after the second one, I was certain that these experiences are nothing short of magic. Aside from assisting in cutting-edge research, I had the pleasure to spend my time creating tight bonds with some of the brightest scholars from around the U.S.
    From the get-go, REUs encourage sharing backgrounds and experiences with one another to create a comfortable environment at the institution. I found that at both sites I was stationed at, bonds were rapidly forged, and my peers became increasingly open to sharing struggles and ideas within their research. We valued each other’s critiques because we valued each other; no matter what background we came from we all worked tirelessly to make every project a success. REUs had a tremendous impact on me and my peers by providing an experience that had removed many barriers and allowed us to thrive as scientists and life-long friends in the field.
  • AGU Bridge Program: The AGU Bridge Program is a pioneering initiative I have had the pleasure to learn about while working at the AGU Headquarters in Washington, DC. The program itself is an opportunity for underrepresented students to apply for master’s and doctoral programs using a free common application. Accepted students will join academic departments that are recognized as AGU Bridge Program partners. These Bridge Program Partners have committed to developing, adopting, and sharing inclusive practices for recruiting, admitting, mentoring, and retaining women and underrepresented minorities in STEM graduate programs. By taking advantage of this program, candidates at any level of their professional career can find a path towards achieving an advanced degree in the Earth sciences and make the graduate level a more diverse space with a supportive network behind them.

While working towards representation in Earth science requires increased support from all levels, it’s especially important to have field leaders and institutions take steps towards ensuring that the future of Earth science is as diverse and inclusive as possible. These pioneering programs are just my snapshot of the support network that has managed to impact me. They highlight the need to emphasize efforts of not only diverse recruitment to Earth sciences but retention as well. Many other organizations and programs are dedicated to the effort of expanding the Earth sciences for all, and I am certain that their devotion in this movement is impacting students, scientists, and aspiring leaders like myself every day.

Omar Rosales-Cortez, Talent Pool Intern, American Geophysical Union