Education and Outreach Programs at the American Geophysical Union: Strategic Investment for Maximum Impact!
The AGU is a global network of nearly 40,000 Earth and space scientists from 130 countries. Our membership is dominated by scientists in the academic and government sectors and almost one-third of them work outside of the United States. Not surprisingly, “job one” at AGU is the business of supporting scientific research, through peer-reviewed publications and annual meetings for the scientific community to gather and share their results and ideas. Although education and outreach programs at AGU are relatively small in comparison, they play a vital role in helping to: strengthen undergraduate and graduate geoscience departments; improve pre-college Earth science teaching; facilitate communication of research in the Earth and space sciences to the public; and recruit a strong and diverse next generation of geoscientists. The Committee on Education and Human Resources (CEHR) has helped AGU build a strategic portfolio of education and outreach programs that capitalize on our main resources –our global network of scientists and access to cutting-edge research. These efforts have been greatly enhanced through leveraging of resources in partnership with other organizations serving the physical sciences community.
AGU offers several programs aimed at strengthening teaching and research in geoscience departments. Chief among these has been dissemination of “best practices” and new strategies through special conferences, workshops, and education-themed (ED) sessions at our annual meetings. In the past decade, the number of ED session papers submitted to the Fall AGU Meeting (which now attracts 10,000 scientists) has grown from under 30 in 1995 to 396 in 2003. A large part of this growth is likely due to the increasing pressure applied by federal funding agencies for the research community to consider the broader impacts of their research projects; ED sessions provide a great venue for showcasing these activities.
AGU has also made ED session papers exempt from its rule limiting abstract authors to one first-author contribution, thus enabling scientists to display the products of both their technical and education/outreach efforts at the same meeting.
Recent ED sessions have covered a wide range of topics, from enhancing K-12 education through partnerships with universities to identifying best practices for integrating research and education at the undergraduate level; from exploring the use of innovative technology in teaching geosciences to using the insights from cognitive research on how people learn science in developing effective science courses.
Recent studies (e.g., Weiss et al., 2002) have demonstrated that secondary Earth science teachers have the weakest training in their subject, when compared with teachers from the other natural sciences. This reality has prompted AGU to offer Geophysical Information for Teachers (GIFT) Workshops that help to strengthen the content knowledge of Earth science teachers and provide them with resources which facilitate teaching these concepts in the classroom. GIFT Workshops, which are held in conjunction with annual AGU meetings, bring scientists attending the meeting together with teachers from local schools for a day-and-a-half program of scientific presentations and related hands-on activities. The teachers are also given complimentary meeting badges that allow them to attend technical sessions and the exhibit hall on the second afternoon of the workshop. Recent GIFT Workshops have focused on climate change research in the sensitive polar regions and mid-ocean ridge research; this latter workshop included an exercise to build your own remotely-operated vehicle which the teachers tested in the hotel swimming pool!
Although AGU has a significant student membership (~17% are undergraduates or graduate students), the median age of the AGU membership has increased over the past decade and is now 45 years old. Fostering the next generation of geoscientists and recruiting the “best and brightest” of the entire talent pool available has become an increasingly important focus for AGU’s education and outreach programs. With the completion of a comprehensive Diversity Plan for AGU in May 2002, CEHR has identified several new initiatives for increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the Earth and space sciences. [see http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/education/diversity.html]. Two programs are particularly noteworthy.
In June 2003, AGU co-sponsored a Joint Society Conference on Increasing Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences (IDEaSS Conference), which brought together representatives from 26 different societies and organizations to discuss the community-wide problem of increasing diversity. [see http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/education/jsc/]. One outcome of the IDEaSS Conference was a Resolution to collaborate which has to date been endorsed by several leading organizations in addition to AGU, including the American Meteorological Society, Association of Women Geoscientists, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, and Houston Geological Society.
The second main diversity program, Bright STaRS (Students Training as Research Scientists), is a day-long program for high school students involved with after-school and summer geosciences-related research experiences in their local communities. About 45 students, mainly from underrepresented communities, are invited to submit abstracts on their research and attend the meeting. The students present their results during a special afternoon poster session and the abstracts are published in the meeting abstract volume. In a dedicated morning symposium, the students learn about the breadth and excitement of research in the Earth and space sciences from prominent scientists attending the meeting.
Bright STaRS students from the SF ROCKS! program at San Francisco State
University presenting their results at the 2003 Fall AGU Meeting
Future directions for AGU and CEHR will include a new outreach web site that will provide less technical synopses of current AGU publications, thereby making some of the most recent research in the Earth and space sciences more immediately accessible to the general public. CEHR also hopes to expand its education and outreach offerings in ways that better serve the diverse needs of its international membership. This will not be an easy task, given that most educational decisions are developed locally, thus making it hard to utilize “one size fits all” strategies. We look forward to continuing our tradition of partnering with other scientific societies in identifying practical and effective solutions for achieving that goal.
Weiss, I.R., “2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education: Status of Secondary School Earth Science Teaching,” Horizon Research, 2002.
Jill Karsten is the Manager of Education and Career Services at the American Geophysical Union. Prior to joining the AGU staff in the Fall of 2001, she was a member of the research faculty in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for twelve years, and served as a Program Officer in the Marine Geology and Geophysics program at the Office of Naval Research for one year . Her research interests are focused on tectonic and volcanic processes of mid-ocean ridge systems. She is currently a member of the National Advisory Board for the Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE) and the American Geological Institute’s Education Advisory Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.