Matthew Pritchard, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, working with students in Death Valley, California.

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Summer internships aim to increase diversity in geosciences

The National Science Foundation has awarded funding for a new program of paid summer internships in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) intended to draw students from diverse backgrounds to pursue graduate degrees in the field of geosciences.

The program, known as the Cornell Geopaths Geoscience Learning Ecosystem (CorGGLE), will develop a geoscience learning ecosystem for students and recent graduates from non-geoscience fields to explore opportunities for geoscience graduate study, specifically giving them exposure to socially relevant careers in atmospheric and geological sciences.

Over the course of nine weeks next summer, students will conduct research with EAS faculty mentors and consult with EAS alumni about careers in geoscience that have the potential to impact socially relevant issues like energy resources, extreme weather and climate change.

Cornell EAS is working with the office of Diversity Programs in Engineering to develop partnerships with universities such as historically Black colleges and universities and minority serving institutions.

“Our goal is to bring more people from more diverse backgrounds into the field,” said Matthew Pritchard, professor of earth and atmospheric science and CorGGLE lead. “We know students are not just interested in salaries and career opportunities, they want to work on problems with societal relevance.”

The summer internships offer a stipend, housing and travel accommodations, but most importantly students will get an opportunity to develop, research and present an impactful research project with distinguished EAS faculty and alumni mentors.

The CorGGLE project has partnered with five institutions in the mid-Atlantic region that have diverse undergraduate student populations with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are under-represented at Cornell: Hunter College of CUNY, whose undergraduates are majority women; State University of New York at Oneonta, a rural institution with a large percentage of underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students; Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, which has been ranked as the most diverse research university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 18 consecutive years; Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, one of only two historically Black colleges for women in the U.S.; and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, the Preeminent Public Urban Research University.

“As a CorGGLE collaborator, we are leveraging our networks with key scholar programs like the Ronald E. McNair Scholars, Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, Meyerhoff Scholars, and the GEM Consortium to attract STEM students from historically minoritized backgrounds,” said Jami P. Joyner, the director of Diversity Programs in Engineering and a co-lead on the project. “This effort adds momentum for us to continue strengthening and expanding our networks across minority serving institutions.”

In addition to drawing from under-represented student populations, the CorGGLE team looks to capitalize on the multidisciplinary nature of geosciences to diversify the EAS graduate student cohort. “In my own group,” Pritchard said, “we've had computer scientists, electrical engineers, physicists, as well as different types of geoscientists. We're taking the tools from individual disciplines and applying them to study problems in the earth and atmospheric sciences, whether it be climate change, or natural hazards or water quality.”

Joyner also emphasized the project’s cross-discipline advantages. “CorGGLE’s strategic approach is an excellent framework that aptly demonstrates the applied impact of interdisciplinary diversity coupled with compositional inclusion.” 

In addition to Pritchard and Joyner, the CorGGLE team includes several faculty members from Cornell EAS who will develop projects with the student participants based on their research expertise, including Art DeGaetano, professor and director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center; Kade Keranen, associate professor who teaches environmental and field geophysics classes; Natalie Mahowald, the Irving Porter Church Professor of Atmospheric Sciences; Karin Olson-Hoal, the Wold Family Professor in Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability; Teresa Jordan, the J. Preston Levis Professor of Geological Sciences; Patrick Fulton, assistant professor and Croll Sesquicentennial Fellow; Rowena Lohman, associate professor of geophysics and remote sensing; and assistant professor Megan Holycross.

The team’s National Science Foundation proposal cites several studies showing that students rank the geosciences lower than other scientific fields in its ability to help the environment, help society and help them find a job. CorGGLE aims to shatter that misconception by developing strategies to increase the awareness of geoscience careers in students from diverse undergraduate majors at the critical juncture between undergraduate and graduate school.

By the end of the summer, students will be more aware of scientific opportunities in geosciences in areas of high societal relevance, having been exposed to multiple career paths and engaging research projects that will enhance their chances for successful admission to a graduate program.

Applications to the 2022 CorGGLE summer program are now open. The application deadline is Feb. 15, 2022.

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