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Andrew Alden

Overcoming

By January 21, 2008

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Like other sciences, geology is gradually becoming less a preserve of white men. I've written about the change from "men" (the influx of women) but not about the change from "white."

Part of the progress in bringing minorities into geology comes from outreach, part from what I might call upreach. Outreach takes many forms, from college mentors to scholarships from geological societies large and small. The need is greatest, as it is for all sciences, for outreach to children. Becoming a scientist takes long study and family support. Everything helps. That's why I appreciate upreach — minority-based organizations that can be more effective in motivating kids by example. The National Association of Black Geologists and Geophysicists (NABGG) is one, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) is another.

SACNAS has a nice set of biographies by minority scientists. Geologist Ken Ridgway's biography has an inspiring message well suited for today's national Martin Luther King holiday:

"Fortunately I had role models like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who taught me that I had the right to excel and that I could excel, even if people didnít accept me for who I was. Part of what I had to overcome was the feeling that I needed to blend in and not make waves. If youíve faced a lot of discrimination, what you often learn is that life is easier if you blend in as much as possible. But excelling in school means that you stand out, which can be pretty uncomfortable for people who donít want to draw much attention to themselves. However, when I got to college, I felt like there was much less racism than in high school. Thatís what I love about universities. Theyíre about ideas and about how hard you can work and how clearly you can think."

Comments

January 21, 2008 at 2:54 am
(1) yami says:

The need is greatest, as it is for all sciences, for outreach to children.

Is it? Why? Discrimination still happens at every point along the academic pipeline and it’s far from obvious to me that childhood is the best target.

Maybe we should direct our “outreach” to the adults who keep throwing obstacles in these children’s paths.

January 21, 2008 at 11:54 am
(2) Larry says:

Listen Up folks!!! What is needed in this world is more scientists and yes children are the one place we need to actively promote from. Unfortunately, our academic programs in schools are run by people who can barely understand what they teach, especially in the lower grades, which is why we are promoting illiterates. Fix the education system, get rid of underqualified teachers who are there because the schools are desperate for warm bodies, and they can not pay enough to make it worthwhile for qualified people.

January 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm
(3) Geology Guide says:

Thanks for both comments. In fact, outreach to children necessarily involves the adults in their lives: parents (especially homeschoolers) and teachers. Once these adults have lesson plans and other learning modules, once they see guest speakers from the geologic life in their classrooms, once they learn the subject themselves enough to teach the basics, their influence is strong and permanent.

The academic pipeline is also crucial, and far from perfect, but at least there everyone involved, including the student, is an adult. Discrimination can be recognized and combatted. The environment is less hostile, and the student is not as helpless. It’s the incoming stream of minority students that is inadequate, even though their retention rate once they’re in college still needs help. I’m saying that fixing the watershed will help fix the pipeline–and anyway, what of the mass of people who don’t need a geology degree to learn some science that will make them better citizens?

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