Story by Amy Pine
As a young girl growing up in Savannah, Ga., Sue Ebanks, Ph.D., was introduced to the earth sciences through her parents, who were both environmentally conscious. But for many kids in the Savannah area, exposure to the discipline is limited, particularly for minorities. Ebanks, an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences at Savannah State University, is hoping to change that by helping equip educators with the tools necessary to increase the number and diversity of students pursuing careers in geosciences.
In 2018, Ebanks received a $177,512 award from the National Science Foundation for year-one funding for Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience (I-USE GEOPATHS). The award, which is expected to receive an additional two years of funding, is a collaboration between SSU, Tennessee State University, and Florida A&M University that seeks to increase the diversity of the geosciences workforce through a data- and theory-driven process of intervention design and evaluation specifically targeting HBCU teacher preparation programs.
“What we’re seeing is that in many cases, students aren’t getting a chance to see a teacher that looks like them talking about geoscience, being confident about geoscience and promoting geoscience as a career option,” Ebanks says. “We want to change that environment so that those who are studying and teaching and promoting the geosciences have diverse backgrounds, ethnically, culturally, [even] age [wise] — traditional versus nontraditional students.”
To help achieve that goal, Ebanks; Cora Thompson, Ed.D., assistant professor in the SSU College of Education; and Tavares Brown, curriculum director of Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah, are working along with their colleagues at the other universities to develop an assessment and evaluation tool that will allow institutions to better support students, particularly African-Americans, and garner interest in the geosciences. The team is currently looking at best practices for instruction and curricular change.
Once the team develops the tool, the institutions will engage in a self-assessment to determine how they can implement changes or sign up to have a group of professionals conduct an on-site visit to help execute best practices. The goal is for the institutions to identify gaps and find ways to improve geosciences instruction, thus better serving their students and helping create pathways to careers in the field.
Brown, who taught science before shifting into his role as curriculum director, believes the opportunity to empower teachers and eventually expose students to geosciences beyond textbook instruction will have a lasting impact.
“This opportunity will provide teachers with professional development, additional resources and a real-world approach to provide instruction for their students,” Brown says. “One of my favorite sayings is that ‘experience is one of life’s greatest teachers,’ and that relates to this project because students [will gain] exposure to know what is offered to them in this vast world in which we live.”
This article originally appeared in Arising, 2019.
Established in 1890, Savannah State University is the oldest public historically black college or university in Georgia and the oldest institution of higher learning in the city of Savannah. The university's 3,600 students select majors from 30 undergraduate and five graduate programs in four colleges ‐ Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Sciences and Technology, and Education.
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