Geoscience Faculty Member Secures $397,822 National Science Foundation Grant to Create System-Wide Geoscience Learning Ecosystem

Posted on 6/2/21 12:34 PM

Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Department of Geoscience is working with colleagues at eight State System of Higher Education universities to create new ways of teaching geosciences, designed to improve field-based instruction and learning for Pennsylvania students, with the goal of increasing their workforce and graduate school preparedness.

IUP Department of Geoscience faculty member Nick Deardorff is the principal investigator for a collaborative $397,822 National Science Foundation grant-funded project to create a Geoscience Learning Ecosystem throughout the 14 universities in the State System.

Co-principal investigators are Eric Straffin, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania; Sarah Tindall, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania; Dan Harris, California University of Pennsylvania; and Sean Cornell, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

IUP geoscience faculty Jonathan Lewis and Yvonne Branan are senior personnel on the project, joined by Daria Nikitina, West Chester University of Pennsylvania; Joseph Zume, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania; Patti Campbell and Tamra Schiappa, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania; Logan Wiest, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania; and Talor Walsh, Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

“Currently, the 11 Geoscience programs within the State System operate independently, many struggling to provide extensive and immersive field instruction due to limitations of faculty time and expertise, campus resources, and student enrollment,” Deardorff said.

“Most students at each campus are only exposed to the local field geology and local employment prospects, rather than the wealth of environments, problems, and opportunities available throughout Pennsylvania. By working together as faculty and administrators across multiple universities, reaching out to both employers and high school students, and providing field instruction in a highly relevant service-learning context, we can build a dynamic community or ecosystem capable of supporting amazing field learning opportunities and outreach to our current and prospective students, as well as potential employers.”

“Developing a truly collaborative, multi-institution Geoscience Field Course and outreach program will require institutional transformation at all of our institutions, but we have laid the groundwork, and we are ready to move forward,” he said.

The Geoscience Learning Ecosystem also will introduce geoscience career pathways to pre-college students, with the goal of increasing participation by underrepresented minorities in the geosciences.

Deardorff said that one of the unique aspects of the program is the involvement with local and regional professional geoscientists and with secondary school teachers, administrators, students, and regional workforce development agencies.

Overall, the Geoscience Learning Ecosystem has as its goal to serve as a multifaceted, sustainable initiative to foster statewide collaboration between faculty, industry partners, and all State System universities with geoscience programs through three main components: the geoscience field course; the Geoscience Service Learning In Pennsylvania-STEM Readiness for All Municipalities (GeoSLIP-STREAM), a short course program for high school students; and professional partner participation.

The geoscience field course will be an accessible, affordable summer experience, utilizing faculty expertise, campus resources, diverse regional geology, and administrative support within the State System. Learning modules will highlight societally relevant geologic issues, including acid mine drainage, soil chemistry, shale gas, karst, and water resources in a service-learning context.

“We strongly believe that integrating field days with local industry geologists will increase students' exposure to diverse professional geoscientists and career pathways, while highlighting workplace skills and professionalism,” Deardorff said.

GeoSLIP-STREAM is a program for high school students, particularly those from underrepresented minority communities. Through this program, students will be invited to participate in single- or multi-day geoscience service-learning projects, led by State System faculty and industry partners and working with college student mentors in the summer geosciences field course.

These one- to three-day short courses for high school students will occur at multiple locations around Pennsylvania to provide learning experiences for a diverse array of communities and to explore a range of geoscience-related problems affecting those communities. “The support, guidance, and participation from secondary school teachers, administrators, students, and regional workforce development agencies will be critical in helping us to move this project forward,” Deardorff said.

“As we design each year's Geoscience Field Course and associated GeoSLIP-STREAM outreach excursions, we will be seeking geoscientists throughout Pennsylvania who are willing to join us for a day in the field, provide an office or site visit, give an informal presentation about geoscience careers, or otherwise interact with the Geoscience Field Course and GeoSLIP-STREAM students,” Deardorff said.

“Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to regionally relevant career pathways and local professional mentors is essential to recruiting in any discipline, so participation by professional partners is essential to our program's success. These partnerships will in turn strengthen ties among regional geoscience employers and State System geoscience programs, faculty, and students.”

This summer, Deardorff, Tindall, and the rest of the steering committee for this project are beginning to design and implement this ambitious project, while working to publicize opportunities for participation by students at both the university and high school levels, and to professionals who may be interested in participating in the project.

This project has been in the planning phases for a few years. In 2018, the project collaborators (IUP, Edinboro, Kutztown, and West Chester universities) received a $33,576 grant from the National Science Foundation to host a workshop about the project, which was held in January 2019.

For more information, persons can contact Deardorff at n.deardorff@iup.edu or Tindall at tindall@kutztown.edu.