Diversity and Outreach
Science - especially environmental science - has become a team and community effort. Issues of sustainability, watershed management, and climate change require consideration of and input from people who are directly impacted by scientific findings and practices. In turn, STEM fields improve as diversity of thought and background increases. Below are some of my efforts to improve diversity and outreach, through my teaching, professional service, and public outreach.
Women in STEM
Women are historically underrepresented in STEM over all, and the geosciences in particular. The Earth Science Women's Network (ESWN) is a peer-mentoring network that builds a community of scientists who advocate for each other, offer advice, and promote women in the earth sciences. I volunteer with ESWN, as coordinator of monthly Member Spotlights that highlight the accomplishments of women scientists and diversifies the public face of science. I also currently serve on a board to re-design the ESWN website to improve access to resources and greater public engagement. ESWN also maintains active forums, regional groups, and runs workshops on topics such as "Navigating the NSF" and "Opportunities Beyond Academia". I also used to run a quarterly ESWN virtual book club - and may get it going again soon!
I am also a member of 500 Women Scientists and 500 Queer Scientists, groups that work to make science "open, inclusive, and accessible" to all. Both groups have many useful resources, including "Request a Scientist" databases; guides on communication, leadership, and ending harrassment; and scientific literature on representation of underrepresented groups in STEM.
Science does not operate in a vacuum, and students cannot leave their identities, background, and culture at the door when they enter a classroom. By using inclusive teaching strategies educators can reduce gaps in performance, foster an environment where differing perspectives can be considered, and provide students with opportunities to connect more directly with scientific processes and outcomes.
Within my courses, I strive to create an inclusive environment with diverse viewpoints through strategies such as:
- Readings and material from diverse authors
- Use a variety of activities and assessment tools (e.g., group work, writing assignments, discussions)
- De-emphasize high-stakes testing, which has been shown to disadvantage groups underrepresented in STEM
- Focus on developing communication skills, so that students are able to convey what they have learned
- Create opportunities for students to give me feedback on how the course is going
- Go over strategies for success on testing, independent research, and literature reviews, without assuming that all students have the same background and experience in such skills
- Explicitly foster an environment where I am accessible to students and they can ask questions
I strongly believe that science should be shared, particularly with local peoples who are impacted by the processes we study. Much of my efforts in this has gone towards guest instruction in K-12 schools throughout Texas and in the Canadian Arctic. I have also participated in public panels on Arctic climate change and water quality of Texas rivers.
While I plan to continue such efforts, I believe that there are other, higher-impact ways of working with the public. For instance, I co-taught a field-based workshop for teachers through the NOAA Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve on tidal rivers and riparian zones. The workshop taught over a dozen K-12 teachers how to assess estuaries and riparian zones, which they in turn can use to reach their students for years to come.
Citizen science also gets people invested in their local environments, and provides researchers with more data than they could realistically collect themselves. At the University of Texas, I developed a pilot program for citizens to sample river water quality across the the state, and ship us water samples. We worked in partnership with local river authorities to find volunteers and attend training sessions. My current project in Minnesota has benefited from volunteers sampling lakes, and we are working on developing a citizen science app that would allow anyone with a smart phone to collect data on lake color and clarity.