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UK Partnership Will Prepare STEAM Students for Geosciences Careers

By Whitney Harder

(Feb. 8, 2016) — A new partnership between the University of Kentucky Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) in the College of Arts and SciencesUK College of Education and STEAM Academy will prepare a diverse population of high school students for careers in geosciences. The program is being funded by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is expected to begin fall 2016.

"Many high school students don't realize they can make a living studying rocks, and that it's not just rocks — we study water resources, energy, natural hazards, environmental issues and even focus on community planning," said Rebecca Freeman, principal investigator (PI) on the NSF proposal and EES assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies.

Through field work, hands-on activities and new curriculum, the "Full STEAM Ahead" program will expose all STEAM students to four career options in the geosciences during their first two years of high school. Interested students can continue the program with a semester-long internship in EES laboratories during their sophomore year. Students can then transition into a "geoscience career pathway" through dual-credit EES courses on the UK campus during their junior and senior years, while continuing a customized curriculum at the STEAM Academy.

"It's a great opportunity to partner together, to package our STEM curriculum with UK's deep content expertise in geosciences, which we would never have access to on our own," said Justin Bathon, a UK College of Education associate professor who provides leadership to the STEAM Academy as the college’s director of innovative school models.

Bathon along with EES Associate Professor Alan Fryar and Pioneer Natural Resources Professor Michael McGlue are co-PIs on the NSF grant and will help lead the program.

"Because there are not a lot of geoscience courses in high school, it doesn't get reinforced systematically; students often don't know how to make a career track out of it," Fryar said.

At the same time, the need for geoscientists is growing and a workforce shortage is approaching. To address this, the "Full STEAM Ahead" program will not only aim to attract more students into the field, but also more diverse students, a challenge geosciences has dealt with for years.

The program will particularly focus on recruiting underrepresented groups, including women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and others, and easing their transition from high school to college. Of approximately 340 students, minority students represent 42 percent and students with free/reduced lunch represent 40 percent of STEAM's student population.

"We’re hoping to make life easier for other groups who may have obstacles in pursuing a STEM education or career path," said Freeman, who noted her own obstacles as a woman in geosciences.