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Fostering Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences: The Role of AGU. John T. Snow College of Geosciences The University of Oklahoma Roberta M. Johnson University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Boulder, CO Frank R. Hall The University of New Orleans New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Fostering Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences: The Role of AGU

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Fostering Diversityin theEarth and Space Sciences:The Role of AGU

John T. Snow

College of Geosciences

The University of Oklahoma

Roberta M. Johnson

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Boulder, CO

Frank R. Hall

The University of New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana

Why Should AGU Care?

  • Membership of the research community in the Earth and Space Sciences does not reflect society

    • Invisible to, or seen as a irrelevant or even dangerous by growing sectors of the population

    • Political implications for raising the support necessary to maintain the scientific enterprise

  • Loss of perspectives, insights, talents to the Earth and Space Sciences research community

    • Community not availing itself of the talents and skills of a large and increasing portion of the society

    • “Intellectual capital” even more important than financial support

Why Should AGU Care?

  • Demographics indicate current situation with low to modest undergraduate enrollments will likely continue or worsen unless proactive steps are taken

    • Some improvement w/r/t women over last decades but field still dominated by an aging population of white men

    • Demographics of pool of potential students changing rapidly  in future, lower percentage of white males in the population pool, higher percentages of women and minorities

  • Failure to correct the situation will have long term adverse effects on the economic, social, and overall scientific health of our fields

    • “Work force of the future” may not be there when it is needed

Demographics:Arguing from the data

Vali et al., 2002

In recent study of atmospheric science departments, found

  • Applications fell ~ 9%/year over 5 yrs, yet number of students starting graduate studystayed about the same

    • Are universities are becoming less selective in students they admit? … relying more on non-US students?

  • Number of US citizen applicants is declining, while number of foreign students is increasing

    • Continued fallout from 9/11 may significantly the ability of foreign nationals to study in the USA

  • University workforce is aging

    • Is the long heralded retirement boom actually going to happen?

    • Is production of PhDs sufficient replace retiring scientists over next decade? … will they be replaced?

Ages of full-time doctoral scientific and engineering faculty, including full, associate, and assistant professors and instructors (Source: NSB 2000b, Table 6-25.) Vali et al., 2002

Maturing of the Professorate; more

full professors, fewer assistant professors

Average age of all science and engineering faculty from 1973 to 1997 (Source: NSB 2000b, Table 6-25), Vali et al., 2002

Number of Graduate Students by Specialty



Earth and


science, Women


Ocean sciences,




Earth and


science, Men


Ocean sciences,





















The number of female geoscience graduate students has increased steadily over the past decade, while the number of male geoscience graduate students has declined

Overall trend downward since at least 1992

The number of Ph.D.s earned in earth-atmosphere-ocean sciences by citizenship status. The ordinate is shown with a logarithmic scale to make relative changes easier to compare. (Source: NSF 2000b, Table 3) Vali et al., 2002

American Geological Institute, 1999

  • Enrollments in geoscience departments driven largely by energy markets

  • Enrollments declined 39% between 1996 and 1999

    • Overall decline in present and future employment opportunities in environmental, petroleum sectors due to mergers, changing regulatory environment

Total Geosciences Degrees Granted 1980-2000


Total degrees

A fundamental restructuring in energy industry began in mid ’80s which continues today

 No traditional recovery!


Ethnic Minorities



Number of Geoscience Degrees













U.S. Census 2000

Projected Number of 15-19 Year Olds in

US Resident Population - U.S. Census, 2000



Slow decline for next decade


All 15-19 Year Olds

White, Non-Hispanic

Number (in thousands)




All near to medium term growth here















Demographics, Events, and Common Sense Say …

  • Population of young white males, the traditional base for Earth and Space Science, has declined 80% in the past 25 yrs

  • Overall, a 13% reduction in graduate enrollment in ESS in 1990s, a period of significant influx of foreign students

    • Any reduction in graduate enrollment of foreign students is likely to have immediate, very significant impacts on the research enterprise

  • Potential for significant retirements in 10 – 15 years among in the academic community

  • Population projections show that minorities are increasing rapidly, relative to the majority population

  • Minority groups and women have a track record of not selecting careers in the Earth and Space Sciences

  • Individuals needed to provide workforce replacements are now in the K-12 school system

Special Challenges in Enhancing Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences

  • Limited presence of scientists generally in minority communities vs. other professionals (no history, lack of role models)

  • Limited presence in K-12 education (no introduction)

  • Limited presence at MSI (no exposure, opportunity)

  • Few minorities in majority institution ESS programs (seen as a less-than-welcoming atmosphere?)

  • Economic tradeoff: time-to-advanced-degree vs. immediate lifestyle (MBA vs. PhD, … is it worth it?)

  • Academic organizational structures preclude or impede focused efforts like Minority Engineering Programs

An AGU Strategic Goal

AGU will reflect diversity in all of its activities and programs

  • A long term goal, with many challenges along the way

  • Requires AGU to be proactive

  • International in scope, not just USA

The AGU Diversity Plan

  • Diversity Subcommittee of CEHR established Spring 2001

  • Strategic Plan completed in Spring 2002, adopted by CEHR, presented to Council at the Spring Meeting.

  • Four Goals

    • Educate/involve AGU Membership

    • Enhance/foster participation of scientists, educators, and students from under-represented groups in AGU activities

    • Increase visibility of Earth and space sciences and foster awareness of career opportunities in these fields for under-represented populations

    • Promote changes in academic culture (barriers, disincentives) to motivate scientists to pursue these goals

  • CEHR has the responsibility for implementation

Goal 1: Educate and and involve the AGU membership in diversity issues

  • Many AGU members are unaware of the changing demographics in the population of young people, nationally, world-wide

  • CEHR attempting to educate/involve via

    • Literature, web presence

    • Topical sessions at meetings

    • Involvement of local and regional minority students in student events

Goal 2: Enhance and foster participation of scientists, Earth and Space Science educators, and students from underrepresented groups in AGU activities

  • Better understand the demographics of the Earth and Space Science community

    • Surveys

    • Statistical studies of AGU membership data base

  • Appropriately recognize those outstanding minority individuals currently in the Earth and Space Sciences

    • Move to leadership positions

    • Work with them to increase the visibility the Earth and Space Sciences in minority communities

  • Develop mechanisms for faculty and students from MSI’s to easily participate in AGU programs

Goal 3: Increase visibility of the Earth and Space Sciences and foster awareness of career opportunities in these fields for underrepresented groups

  • Have been trying to do this in one fashion or another for past 30 years  all evidence suggests we have not been successful; very hard to do

  • Must influence the full length of the pipeline, pre-K through university

  • Special roles for MSI’s, 2-year institutions

  • Role of parents in minority career choices

  • Scale of problem is daunting

    • Must influence 1000s of people to get one PhD a decade later

Point: We need to develop new marketing techniques, but have yet to sort out what these might be  a community wide problem

Goal 4: Promote changes in the academic culture that both remove barriers and disincentives for increasing diversity in the student and faculty populations, and encourage rewards for those wishing to pursue those goals

  • Learn from other communities, e.g., physics, regarding barriers, inappropriate pedagogical practices, and insensitive policies that discourage otherwise qualified members of underrepresented groups from pursuing study and careers in the Earth and Space Sciences

  • Must understand more about why individuals, majority and minority, select a career in sciences, why some leave, and how best to transfer knowledge, understanding, and skills to next generation

A Sampling of CurrentAGU Diversity Efforts

  • Fall Meeting 2002:

    • Recognition of Warren Washington, Senior Scientist at NCAR and Chair of the NSB; Saturday evening

    • “Faces of Diversity: Profiles of Women Geoscientists”, Sunday morning poster session

    • “Who Will Conduct Geophysical Research in the Future?”, Sunday afternoon Union session

    • “Improving Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences: Programs That Work”, Sunday poster session and oral session

  • Proposal submitted to NSF Geoscience Diversity program FY01 (unsuccessful) and FY02 (under consideration)


  • Create alliances with faculty in traditional sciences at MSIs

  • Bring promising high school students at AGU Meetings

  • Establish an AGU Mentors program

  • Provide Minority Student Meeting Travel Grants

  • Begin an AGU member demographics survey

  • Develop ESS Career Information

  • 2nd Joint Professional Society Conference on Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences

Two Final Points:Credibility IssueAGU Can Not Do This Alone

Credibility Issue

  • Previous mythical shortages in scientists and engineers – have we cried wolf too often?

  • Will it happen? When? Can we predict it?

  • There are some fundamental changes occurring in society and the economy which may discourage institutions from replacement -- will universities follow industry lead?  should not automatically assume that universities will replace all retiring Earth and Space Science faculty

AGU Can Not Do This Alone

  • AGU must serve as a catalyst for change among the many professional and scientific societies in the Earth and Space Sciences

  • Emphasis on the roles of professional community and professional and scientific societies in addressing under representation in the geosciences

  • Developing interest, concern, willingness to participate among members is essential

Some References

  • Vali, F., R. Anthes, D. Thomson, D. Houghton, J. Fellows, and S. Friberg, “Wanted: More Ph.D.s – Graduate enrollments in the atmospheric sciences”, BAMS, January 2002.

  • “Report on the Status of Academic Geoscience Departments”, American Geological Institute, 1999.

  • The Earth and Space Sciences: A Statistical Overview, Roman Czujko, Statistical Research Center, AIP, 2002 (to be published Fall 2002)

  • Strategy for Developing a Program for Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences, NSF Geoscience Diversity Program (

  • Statistics on characteristics of the U.S. population, education, and Ph.D. employment by racial/ethnic group, NSF Geoscience Diversity Program ( )

  • AGU Diversity Strategic Plan, AGU Committee on Education and Human Resources Subcommittee for Diversity, 2002.

John T. Snow

Dean, College of Geosciences

The University of Oklahoma

Sarkeys Energy Center

100 E. Boyd St., Suite 710

Norman, Oklahoma 73072

T: 405-325-3101

F: 405-325-3148

C: 405-590-9689



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