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Addressing Locally-tailored Information Infrastructure & Geoscience Needs for Enhancing Diversity (ALIGNED)

 

Background

Where do we look to attract a more diverse group of students to our program? And what do we do once we find them? These are common questions asked at the departmental level, the reproductive core of our discipline and the place where students enter and engage with universities through their majors. 

Despite growing national support for broadening participation in higher education, increasing university-level commitment to pursue goals of inclusion at their institutions, and widespread agreement with the goal of enhancing diversity within departments, undergraduate and graduate advisors can often find themselves at a loss for where and how to engage potential students from traditionally underrepresented populations.

To launch a process of collecting our current disciplinary insight to directly support the way departments address diversity in geography, the AAG received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences Program for the ALIGNED project.

The three-year pilot study sought to align the needs of university departments and underrepresented students by drawing upon the intellectual wealth of the discipline to inform and transform ways in which departments envision and realize their own goals to enhance diversity.  NSF reviewers called the effort “an innovative and potentially transformative project with substantial merit, a refreshingly creative approach to understanding how we might improve recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in the geoscience- related fields.”

Approach

The pipeline principle— that is, building relationships among educational institutions serving students at different stages from grade school, middle school, secondary, community colleges, undergraduate to graduate levels—is fairly well understood as a framework for recruitment efforts in higher education.

However, it is often overlooked how such pipelines are spatial in nature, and how characteristics of place impact recruitment outcomes and retention rates. Where universities are, where prospective students are coming from or might come from, and the dynamic of these origins and destinations matter a great deal. It is also important to recognize the varied starting points for many departments: a small liberal arts school in the rural Midwest has different realities to contend with concerning recruitment and retention than an urban commuter school on the east coast.

With this in mind, the ALIGNED project sought to consolidate a set of resources and studies developed over previous years by the AAG to design a toolkit to support departments in their efforts to enhance diversity.