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Recruitment and Retention in Geosciences

  • February 19, 2019
  • 5:30 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Chef's: 291 Seneca Street, Buffalo, NY 14204


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TOPIC: Recruitment and Retention in Geosciences

Geoscience faces dual recruiting challenges: a pending workforce shortage due to retirements and attrition and a lack of diversity. Already suffering from low visibility compared to other STEM fields, geoscience does not resemble the makeup of the general population in terms of either race/ethnicity or gender and is among the least diverse of all STEM fields in the U.S. Many studies discuss recruiting and diversity issues in science and math, but only a small number consider - and address quantitatively - barriers in geoscience.

To examine potential barriers to recruitment, I interviewed 39 geoscience majors from two large public universities in the U.S. I gathered 1,169 ‘critical incidents,’ or life experiences that affected choice of a geoscience major. The critical incidents were classified by time period (when they occurred), grouped by outcome, sorted into categories, and compared by the students’ race/ethnicity and gender.

Among some important differences, my study found that white, Hispanic/Latino, and African American students reported different types of experiences affecting major choice while growing up. For instance, 81% of white students reported outdoor experiences (e.g., camping, hiking) as children that affected major choice, whereas Hispanics (33%) and African Americans (22%) reported significantly fewer outdoor experiences from the same time period. And, we found that women reported more negative experiences than men in required non-geoscience courses.

These findings suggest that sociocultural factors behind under-representation in other fields may similarly impede diversity in geoscience. Although geoscience majors share many common experiences, knowledge of subtle barriers that may exist for underrepresented students and women in geoscience can inform recruiting, teaching, and advisement strategies.

SPEAKER: Dr. Phil Stokes - Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve

Dr. Phil Stokes is currently the Executive Director of the Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve in Buffalo, NY. Prior to working for big fossil, Dr. Stokes served as instructor, research associate, academic advisor, and community outreach coordinator in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona while pursuing his PhD. His 2016 dissertation, Diversity in Geoscience: Critical Incidents and Factors Affecting Choice of Major, used social and behavioral science to look at the factors behind under-representation in STEM fields, and in particular geology.

Dr. Stokes has coordinated four multi-year National Science Foundation projects: three at the University of Arizona (including SAGUARO) and one at SUNY Buffalo, where he earned his B.S. (2004) and M.S. (2007) degrees in Geological Science. His thesis work used ground penetrating radar to search for mastodon bones and to map glacially deposited units at the Ice Age Hiscock Site near Rochester, NY. In his spare time he plays guitar and ukulele, travels, and brings a telescope to music festivals for late night stargazing.


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