Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Earth and Environmental Sciences: Supporting the Success of All Students

By Rachel Beane, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, and Stefany Sit, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL

Now is an opportune moment for the Earth and environmental sciences to adjust our modes of attracting and educating students. National demographics are changing (Bernard & Cooperdock, 2018), our science and society need diverse geoscientists (Huntoon, Tanenbaum, & Hodges, 2015), and our professional ethics demand equitable educational opportunities for all. We have the responsibility to make choices in our teaching and in our programs to better attract and support a diverse population of students (Callahan et al., 2017; Sherman-Morris & McNeal, 2016; Wolfe & Riggs, 2017) and to remain a thriving and relevant scientific community poised to meet the needs of society.

Workshop Overview

The National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT), with InTeGrate support, offered a workshop April 10-12, 2019, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, titled "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Earth and Environmental Sciences: Supporting the Success of All Students." Sessions focused on students from traditionally under-reached and under-supported groups, including students from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds and students with physical, mental-health, and learning needs. Participants and leaders drew from our collective experiences, the science and sociology literature on inclusion and equity, InTeGrate modules, NAGT's Traveling Workshops Program, SAGE 2YC resources (Macdonald et al., 2019), and recent publications in the Journal of Geoscience Education. The 48 participants came to the workshop from a broad distribution of institutional types: two-year colleges (19%) and four-year undergraduate (48%), masters-granting (8%), and doctoral (23%) institutions. Thirty percent of faculty taught at Minority Serving Institutions. Participants left the workshop with action plans to be implemented in their classes on immediate to longerterm timescales and with new ideas to discuss with their programs.

The overarching goals of the workshop were for participants to: 1) discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion and how they strengthen the Earth and environmental sciences; 2) recognize barriers to and opportunities for inclusion; 3) explore strategies and practices that attract students, cultivate their science identities, and help them to thrive in college and beyond; 4) apply a framework of engagement, capacity, and continuity to program evaluation and design; 5) develop an action plan with strategies to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion at course and program levels; and 6) enable networking, sharing, and collaboration within the Earth education community to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. Participants considered the challenges and barriers undergraduate students encounter and explored a range of approaches to broaden participation and foster inclusion. At the department level, we discussed program evaluation and design (Jolly et al., 2004); at the curricular level, course offerings and their topics; and at the course level, inclusive teaching strategies. The program was designed to model and share teaching and engagement practices related to workshop goals and included pre-workshop readings, a mix of interactive plenary and breakout sessions, and time for reflection and action planning.


The workshop consisted of a mix of breakout and plenary sessions. Breakout sessions clustered around three themes: 1) supporting access, inclusion, diversity in degree programs, 2) developing a curriculum to support all students, and 3) teaching strategies for the inclusive classroom. The first plenary session, "Building Students' Science Identity," highlighted strategies to infuse career information and diverse perspectives into courses and to build students' abilities to perceive of themselves as future scientists (Flowers & Banda, 2016; Schinske et al., 2015). Two other plenary sessions focused on issues related to inclusion: "A Psychologist's Perspective" focused on recognizing the influence of unconscious bias and how to work towards uncovering it, and "Why Inclusivity Matters" focused on positive effects of diversity such as allowing the exploration of more complex issues and questions that commonly occur in areas populated by segments of society not typically represented in the discipline. The "Growing Student Strengths" session applied the context diversity model of Ibarra (2001) towards developing diverse approaches to learning. The "Building a Sense of Community" plenary session employed a model of engagement, capacity, and continuity (Jolly et al., 2004) to program assessment and design. During the final session, participants shared a portion of the action plan they developed and received feedback.

At the workshop's conclusion, participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to come together to discuss issues and share strategies and indicated that they would make changes in their own teaching and bring ideas back to their programs. One participant appreciated "Learning about specific actionable items for increasing inclusion, developing science identity in students, and continuity...and having the space and time to start to work on an action plan." Another participant noted, "I will be more pro-active about incorporating intentional and directed activities, behaviors, curriculum, opportunities, and attitudes that specifically support inclusive and diverse student relationships." The workshop website has the complete program with related resources, suggested strategies, and collective ideas: https://serc.carleton.edu/215951.

The Traveling Workshops Program

This workshop was part of the NAGT Traveling Workshops Program (TWP). While this was a national workshop hosted by TWP, more commonly institutions, departments, or organizations will apply for and sponsor a TWP. Typically, two TWP facilitators will travel to the institution to lead discussions and action planning. Workshop options include: Supporting the Success of All Students, Building Stronger Geoscience and Environmental Science Departments, Strengthening Your Cross-campus Environmental and Sustainability Programs, Strengthening Your Intro or Upper-Division Course, and Making Your Course More Effective and Societally Relevant.


We are grateful for our collaboration with the following workshop facilitators: Reginald Archer, Mitchell Awalt, David Blockstein, Diane Doser, Nicholas Fernandez, Laura Rademacher, Rachel Teasdale, Joshua Villalobos, and Gary Weissmann. InTeGrate and SAGE 2YC shared resources that strengthened this workshop. The workshop was funded through NSF DUE-112533 for the InTeGrate STEP Center in the Geosciences (serc.carleton.edu/integrate). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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