FIU grows community roots for geoscience education, careers

The Department of Earth and Environment in the College of Arts & Sciences is growing roots for geoscience education and careers in Miami.

The project, formally titled “Growing Community Roots for the Geoscienes in Miami, Florida,” is a two-year pilot program designed to inform local middle and high school students about educational and career opportunities in the geosciences and to build recruitment pathways for underrepresented groups to university geoscience degree programs. Geoscience includes the fields of geology, physical geography, geophysics, soil science, ecology, hydrology, glaciology and atmospheric sciences.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation worth $250,000.  Dean Whitman, undergraduate program director for geoscience in Earth and Environment, is the lead project investigator.

“Most secondary school students are trained in the basic sciences, including biology and chemistry, but really aren’t exposed to geoscience and don’t know it exists as a viable career. By the time they reach high school, it’s already too late because many already know what they want to pursue,” Whitman said. “We want to catch students while they’re young and motivated. If we start early, we can have more of an impact. This program is a great tool to enhance STEM majors and recruit a new, diverse work force.”

High school students participating in the 2013 summer workshop visit the CEMEX limestone quarry in Medley, FL.

High school students participating in the 2013 summer workshop visit the CEMEX limestone quarry in Medley, Fla.

In its first year, the program has hosted a one-week workshop for local middle school teachers where they reviewed fundamental concepts of solid earth science and atmospheric science; did hands-on exercises with earth materials, fossils and microscopy; conducted landform interpretation with software; visited a local limestone quarry; and discussed how to make geoscience topics and careers more visible in curriculum. The program also hosted a two-week summer camp for local high school students. They were paired with FIU earth science learning assistants to do hands-on exercises on geoscience and GIS concepts; participate in focus groups; and visit the Everglades, local barrier islands, a limestone quarry, a waste-to-energy facility, the NOAA National Hurricane Center and FIU’s SEM lab.

“I fell in love with earth and space science in high school. I had a great teacher whom I respected very much, so I had a great experience with the subject at a young age,” said Alexandra Daglio ’13, a teacher at Felix Varela High School and former earth science learning assistant. “A teacher has a huge impact towards a student’s point-of-view on any subject. Now that I’m one myself, I understand how my training as a geoscientist, and my love for the subject, is transmitted to my students. It really does trickle down into classroom learning.”

FIU’s learning assistant program gives students who might be interested in teaching a variety of educational experiences early in their college career to evaluate their interest in teaching careers. The program sets out to improve and promote the education of future physics, chemistry, biology, earth science and mathematics teachers.

The “Growing Community Roots for the Geosciences” program is set to host a workshop for local teachers in late June, as well as the two-week summer camp for high school students July 14-18 and July 21-25. For additional information, contact Dean Whitman.

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