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Findings and Outcomes from the ALIGNED Project

Geography departments that have stand-alone or integral diversity plans in place at the department level to recruit and retain under-represented minorities (URM) have an average graduate student population of 20.0% URM, while departments without plans only average 8.1 percent. (22.8% is the average for all STEM fields nationally.)

AAG's initiatives, particularly the ALIGNED Project funded by the US National Science Foundation, have focused on supporting departments to develop realistic, place-based, geographically-aware plans at this level.  These have proven valuable to pilot departments, and the handful of early adopters have seen female student participation rise 6% and URM participation rise nearly 15% from 2005 to 2010. (Data is not available for 2009-2012 for all pilot departments.) The increase reflects greater representation of all non-white groups except for Native American and Other. At the same time, total numbers of undergraduates enrolled in these departments grew by 16.2% so absolute growth in individual students was documented. Over the same time period, the AAG Departmental Data Survey reveals a drop in undergraduate URM across the responding set of departments from 14.4 to 12.7 % but a slight rise in graduate URM rates from 12.4 to 15.6 %. (Note this is not a census but a sample, and response rates doubled from 2005 to 2010.)

While it is too early to evaluate data on URM representation that result from the implementation activities of these plans, the evaluation of the ALIGNED toolkit as a means toward progress on diversity measures revealed that this resource met every participating departments' expectations to provide new insights for their plans, and even exceeded the expectations of half of the users. When asked about the project's impact for inspiring action, respondents noted that "It was compelling ... It moved us from a general sense of the situation to concrete data" but "Much more than data, it allows you to link potential actions with data." Departments identified tangible uses from strategic planning to increase diversity, lobbying their university for diversity initiatives, educating faculty on diversity, tracking diversity trends in the institution and comparing them to others, grant writing for garnering support for diversity initiatives, SACS reports, and more.

More findings were published in the Professional Geographer 2013 FOCUS Issue on Diversity, Inclusion, and Broadening Participation in Geography

Comments from pilot department reports on the qualitative nature of their progress:

  • "Participation in the AAG’s ALIGNED Program has been a critical component of our department’s success over the past in dealing with diversity and inclusion issues. We have been able to utilize the toolkit as well as other diversity materials, produced by the AAG, in drafting our Diversity Plan. We look forward to further collaboration with the AAG and hope that we can aid their work by serving as a pilot department in future grants." --- University of Kansas
  • "The toolkit itself served as a catalyst for initiating a discussion regarding diversity within our department. It was through this discussion that these projects were borne. These activities have served as a catalyst for dialogue regarding diversity in our department. While the general sense in the department is that student diversity is not a problem – the tool revealed that our diversity numbers are lower than the university as a whole. Indeed, the most significant outcome to date is the consciousness-raising through participation. This perspective has tremendous potential as a tool for departments to enhance diversity recruitment and retention. " - University of Texas at Austin
  • "The ALIGNED toolkit is a wonderful resource and very user friendly. It allows for the user to explore relevant information to target recruitment and open new opportunities to reach out to communities that would otherwise be “off the map.” The ability to merge data spatially – the AP data with the demographic data—in a user-friendly environment provides the basis for our approach. I do not think that we would have been able to identify the schools any other way. Houston ISD is one of the largest school districts in the country, and only a dataset and framework like the toolkit could provide the essential information to select schools to participate in the program." - Texas A&M University
  • “Although slow-going, I think we can point to some steps as a result of the ALIGNED project. Updating the strategic plan, the syllabus sharing session, creation of the common space, discussions on ways to integrate diversity into key classes all happened as a result of our participation in the project. I know my participation in the meetings has made me think about some additional readings to incorporate into classes." - Illinois State University
  • "Thanks for letting us be part of the project I believe it improved our Department and forced us to think about issues that we would not have without the involvement." -- University of North Carolina, Wilmington
  • "It's been a great boon to my department, primarily because it got us to start talking about diversity and also take some steps forward. We have a long way to go, but now that there is a large group of new, highly motivated junior faculty on board here, progress is finally being made...Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to get involved and for helping my department get its act together on this! " - University of Wisconsin, La Crosse