New geoscience courses emphasize career readiness and diversity

Jonathan Logan

Science & Environment Editor

Melita Wiles

Science & Environment Editor

 

This year has brought a number of disruptions for all of us, but some changes have been innovative and welcoming to students. The Earth Science department has added a new course this semester specifically for major students called “Geoscience Careers,” and another new course, not yet named for first- and second-year students to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) fields. Megan Pollock, associate professor of earth sciences, and her colleagues have created these smaller classes to develop a cohort — a community of students — within the field of geoscience. The goal is to make students in this cohort feel supported academically and professionally and allow them to speak their minds and ask questions freely.  

Pollock said the inspiration for the class, directed towards juniors and seniors within the major, stemmed from the realization that students were struggling with connecting their academics to their plans outside of Wooster; either to their time between school years or their time after graduation. In these courses, they will learn what their options are, whether it is an internship, graduate school or a job in industry.  

The class takes a four-pronged approach to achieving its goal of connecting students’ Wooster experiences to life after graduation. First, a close partnership with A.P.E.X. was seen as necessary to help geoscience students “think about their professional brand,” said Pollock. This is something that all students need to consider before they graduate. Working closely with A.P.E.X. ensures that students seamlessly connect what they do in the classroom to their resumes, interview skills and overall professional development.   

In addition to building a professional brand, students also have the unique opportunity to work alongside scientists and staff of Environmental Design Group (EDG), an Akron-based company, through what Pollock called the Community Partner Project. Students work with EDG in the community of Wooster on a stormwater runoff project. In addition to gaining professional experience, students get to sharpen their technical skills and nurture interpersonal skills, while making a tangible difference in the broader Wooster community. Stormwater management is becoming more relevant to small cities as climate change causes more severe rain events. A good stormwater management program not only maintains the overall health of infrastructure, but also lessens the impact of crises caused by severe storms.  

In addition to working with EDG, students work with the Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) as another way to tailor their work to Wooster on a more local level. Beyond the work with EDG and OARDC, students can also obtain a stormwater certification online through StormwaterONE, which has credentialed more than 15,000 professionals in the fields of geoscience, engineering and construction.  

Lastly, the class encourages reflection. Students across all disciplines can attest to the confusion that learning at the college level induces. To ameliorate the confusion that sometimes accompanies learning, this course builds students’ confidence by engaging students in a reflective component of the class. Pollock insightfully mentioned that students often overlook how far they have come, and said she wants all S.T.E.M. students to recognize the impact they can have based solely on the value they have created in themselves.   

The other class that is being offered this coming fall semester is primarily for first- and second-year students. It is directed at students who do not know a lot about geosciences but want to explore their options.  

This summer, there is also a geoscience program through the Applied Methods and Research Experience (AMRE) with priority given to first year students, specifically BIPOC and other underrepresented groups. The aim is to get more students from diverse backgrounds interested in S.T.E.M. Through the AMRE program, students can gain hands-on experience, learn about potential paths in geoscience and create a strong S.T.E.M. community. The AMRE project, which is similar to the project in the Geoscience Careers class, will help students develop hard geoscience skills and make connections between S.T.E.M. and the community. This summer program is especially important to Pollock, as she believes there are many different problems to solve in geoscience, making it necessary to have a diverse group of people studying these problems in order to make progress as a science.   

When asked about how she plans to create a welcoming, supportive community, Pollock said that she plans on having third- and fourth-year students as peer mentors, who have completed the Geoscience Careers course, to guide first- and second-year students. This will not only add to the supportive cohort Pollock mentioned, but also build confidence in the younger students looking to continue in the geoscience major.  

As stated before, Pollock’s goals include focusing on professionalism while teaching and helping students improve their hard and soft geoscience skills throughout the class. This is to ensure they are well-versed in the discipline of their choosing before graduating. Pollock’s response to a question about what motivated her was a call to action: there is a lack of diversity in geoscience. Although there have been a lot of resources and funding directed towards improving this problem, there has been no explicit movement in the geosciences to fill this gap; she believes it to be her responsibility to do something about this.   

While Wooster has such a multi-faceted population, there is still room for more diversity in the geosciences and S.T.E.M. in general. Pollock is pushing for the development of a culture where everyone knows how diverse the S.T.E.M. community needs to be. This push is just the start and needs to grow quickly. The problems in our world are urgent; they include climate change, myriad natural hazards and many others. Solutions to these problems will benefit from the thinking of a diverse group of minds.  

The geosciences continue to be one of the least diverse science disciplines. A recent study from Nature Geoscience found that 90 percent of doctoral degrees were awarded to white people, and faculty of color hold only about four percent of tenured or tenure track positions in the top 100 geoscience programs across the United States. These alarming statistics should be a wake-up call to geoscientists and have been to Pollock. Greater diversity leads to better science, innovation, decision making and a better representation of community needs. Science affects everyone, so representation must be broad with people from a multitude of backgrounds in these fields. It can be difficult to choose a discipline to which one does not have a personal connection. Therefore, by involving more diverse groups in S.T.E.M., others can be inspired to become a part of the S.T.E.M. community.  

The Earth Science department at The College of Wooster is helping diversify their field and other S.T.E.M. fields by fostering a safe and inclusive environment for people to excel at science during their time at Wooster and beyond. Pollock wants to show every student that there is a place for everyone in S.T.E.M., even though the science can be daunting and difficult given the environmental and industrial problems associated with the field. There is a stigma within the geosciences that it is the “easy” science. But is fixing the problem of climate change or preventing a natural disaster that simple? It has become clear to the world that the former is not that simple to solve. Pollock wants to bring students who are diverse, smart, and hardworking into the major. As she said, “We are not rocks for jocks. We are not all old white men in flannels.”  

While Pollock would love for all students to come out of their first-year classes as declared geoscientists, she believes that she will have succeeded if the students pick any discipline in S.T.E.M. By incorporating these classes into the geoscience curriculum. Pollock hopes that juniors and seniors will feel more prepared for life after Wooster — in terms of professionalism and their science skills — and that younger students will learn more about the field of geoscience. Her advice to any student potentially interested in any aspect of science is to reach out and communicate with her. She is happy to talk about science with all students. Pollock can be contacted at mpollock@wooster.edu