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Catalyzing Research on Geographies of Broadening Participation

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Geographies of Broadening Participation



To remain competitive in a global environment, we need the full intellectual participation of an increasingly diverse country. Unfortunately, our under-represented minorities (URMs) continue to struggle with access to higher education. That’s because, traditionally, we think of higher education recruitment as a linear “pipeline” or “pathway” for students. Instead, WE think of it as a rich landscape that understands where students are coming from and where they aim to go. 

This means that we need a better understanding of spatial behavior? We also need place-based context to understand how campuses can give a different sense of ‘place’ to different students. And we need to develop collaborative and articulated regional strategies for better positioning of learning institutions. Mapping technologies is one of the ways we can accomplish this. By visualizing spatial data, we can see old problems in new ways and discover innovative solutions. 

About the project

The AAG was awarded $100,000 from the National Science Foundation for a project entitled Catalyzing Research on Geographies of Broadening Participation. This was in the context of the NSF's wider initiative for stimulating research related to the science of broadening participation

The aim was to organize and inspire the geography and spatial science community to focus its unique disciplinary perspectives and significant scholarly capacity to identify how geographic understanding and insights can enrich efforts toward achieving diversity in higher education and the scientific workforce, particularly for geography and the spatial sciences.

The focus was "underrepresented populations", broadly defined and included racial/ethnic minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and economically and socially disadvantaged or marginalized persons. The goal was to advance understanding about their access to and success in higher education. Read more about the background to the project.

Particpants & Activities

Nineteen researchers were competitively selected to participate in this project, including senior scholars with advanced expertise and early career scholars with leadership potential and strong ties to underrepresented communities.

They received support to attend a 3-day creative scholarly retreat March 29 - April 1, 2012 co-hosted by the Geography and Urban Studies Department at Temple University in Philadelphia. Look at the briefing papers they each prepared for the event. Together they developed a collective research agenda focused on geography’s diverse intellectual contributions to defining and developing a Science of Broadening Participation in order to inspire new research priorities, interdisciplinary collaborations, and funding strategies.

This included exploring the role of spatial data and modeling techniques to better understand the complex spatial contexts in which decisions are made about whether or where to attend college, or how theoretically-informed place-based qualitative analysis could permit deeper interpretation of trends in the participation of underrepresented groups in higher education and academe. They then worked in collaborative writing tems to produce peer-reviewed publications on new directions in the research agenda.


In order to engage and support URMs to pursue higher education and fully participate in the workforce of the future, we need a deeper understanding of the “where” that informs policymaking about federal and state funding for students and universities.

Geography departments using this approach saw female student participation grow by 6% and URM participation by 15%! And departments with diversity plans to recruit URMs had an average graduate student population of 20% URM. Engaging students in this intellectual activity also catapults them into job opportunities for a rapidly growing field: The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts nearly 30% growth for geographers by 2022. Money Magazine named geographic information system analysts among their top 100 best jobs in America, and recent studies find geography graduates are paid above average and have lower than average unemployment rates.

National Science Foundation grant # BCS-1061028, Catalyzing Research in Geographies of Broadening Participation.

Principal Investigators: Dr. Patricia Solís, AAG Director of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives (PI), Dr. Jean McKendry, AAG Senior Researcher, (co-PI).

Senior Personnel: Dr. Ken Foote, University of Colorado, Dr. Jim Ketchum, AAG Special Projects Coordinator, Dr. Rickie Sanders, Temple University, Dr. Michael Solem, AAG Director of Educational Affairs, Dr. Rebecca Torres, University of Texas at Austin, Dr. May Yuan, University of Oklahoma.