Challenges and Strategies for increasing the number of Hispanic students in the geoscience program at the University of Texas at El Paso

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The geology program at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) includes a PhD program with a strong research base located in a community with a nearly 80% Hispanic population. Because of our location on the US-Mexican border and the policy of the University to serve our local population, we are a major source of Hispanic geoscientists at all levels. However, the number and percentage of Hispanic students decreases steadily as the academic level increases. This decline may reflect our success in placing our graduates in advanced degree programs at other universities and in jobs. In contrast, our undergraduates are primarily Hispanic, due in part to a strong recruiting pipeline that makes use of multiple programs to interest local pre-college students in geology. It begins with campus tours and talks at local schools followed by a summer program (Pathways) for high school freshmen and sophomores that introduces about 50 outstanding local students to geoscience through a variety of activities with our faculty. The Pathways program is followed by the METALS program which involves 10 high school juniors and seniors in a 2 week field trip with students from San Francisco State University, Purdue University, and the University of New Orleans. Undergraduate students at UTEP are often supported as research assistants who work in labs and on projects that lead to presentations at major meetings and summer internships at other Universities through both the Pathways and the METALS programs. The students who come through this pipeline typically are heavily recruited by other universities and employers. We now need to counteract this loss of potential Hispanic graduate students with a pipeline program that recruits heavily from HSIs that do not offer the research opportunities and advanced degrees that UTEP can provide. Thus, we are working to identify promising geoscience students who do not yet considered themselves to be likely PhD students. Because many of our Hispanic students are first generation college students, the PhD is often not something they envision for themselves but by working with Hispanic undergraduates and MS students in a variety of settings we can begin to change that mindset and make them realize that UTEP offers a unique opportunity to pursue an advanced degree.

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