September 23, 2013

How Do You Get Kids Interested in the Geosciences? Try DIG Texas

The problem: Finding ways to connect high school and college students across the state to opportunities in the geosciences.  The solution:  A program called DIG Texas (Diversity and Innovation in the Geosciences – Texas) that works to connect the university-level geosciences programs in Texas with students and with each other.

DIG Texas unites the state’s two flagship universities – Texas A&M and the University of Texas and its renowned Jackson School – who also share a national reputation for their work in geosciences.  The idea is to use the combined reach and influence of two of the state’s largest academic geosciences entities to unite similar departments and colleges across the state at all participating schools to further access and inclusion for all Texas students.

Dean Kate Miller (center) leads a class of high school students in a lesson on the different kinds of seismic waves and energy that moves through Earth as result of an earthquake or explosion. High school students from around the state participate in the College of Geosciences a weeklong summer session that introduces them to the geosciences.

Dean Kate Miller (center) leads a class of high school students in a lesson on the different kinds of seismic waves and energy that moves through Earth as result of an earthquake or explosion. High school students from around the state participate in the College of Geosciences a weeklong summer session that introduces them to the geosciences.

The project started three years ago with the vision of Geosciences Dean Kate Miller and Jackson School Dean Sharon Mosher and with a seed grant from the National Science Foundation.  The network that has been built has resulted in cooperative activities on both main campuses and also at regional campuses within the A&M, UT and Texas State systems.

A new project, operating under the DIG Texas banner, has attracted additional NSF funding to extend the reach of this project to the high school level.  As many high schools around the state seek to add earth and space science to their curricula, the DIG Texas network of university geoscientists is working directly with expert high school teachers in their regions to build standards-based curricula which will eventually be shared with the whole state once tested.

Leading the overall program for Texas A&M is Eric Riggs, who has created and developed geoscience efforts in other states before coming to Aggieland two years ago.

“By uniting the Texas A&M and UT systems together, we have a chance to promote geosciences in a very unique way,” Riggs says.

“Both schools can work together to help students find a connection with faculty that will have long-lasting impact.”

“We also hope to develop new directions in recruitment and retention, especially from under-represented groups such as those at the graduate level,” he adds. “The regional campuses often have a more diverse student body than the flagship campuses, but the main campuses often have more resources and research opportunities.  By joining forces in the DIG Texas network, we maximize the benefit to students and faculty alike and improve educational opportunities.”

Riggs comes to Texas A&M from Purdue University where he was co-director in the Center for Research and Engagement and Science and Mathematics Education.  He also served as associate professor in geology and held similar academic positions at San Diego State University.

Although Texas A&M and UT are the leaders, other schools around the state have been involved in the DIG Texas program.  These include the University of Texas at El Paso, Midwestern State, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, the University of Texas at Brownsville, Texas A&M International, Lamar University, Trinity University and the University of Houston.

“All of these universities have demonstrated a commitment to campus-wide diversity among student, faculty and staff,” Riggs says.

“Our hope is to develop a model for success in the geosciences that will impact thousands and thousands of students across this state.”

DIG Texas is also part of Texas A&M’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program that enables students to develop their full potential and prepare them as diverse leaders in the 21st century.

To learn more about the DIG Texas Blueprints project, see http://serc.carleton.edu/dig_blueprints/index.html.

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644

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