Broadening the participation of Native Americans in Earth science

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Climate change is not a thing of the future. Indigenous people are being affected by climate changes now. Native American Earth scientists could help Native communities deal with both climate

Climate change is not a thing of the future. Indigenous people are being affected by climate changes now. Native American Earth scientists could help Native communities deal with both climate change and environmental pollution issues, but are noticeably lacking in Earth Science degree programs. The Earth Sciences produce the lowest percentage of minority scientists when compared with other science and engineering fields. Twenty semi-structured interviews were gathered from American Indian/ Alaska Native Earth Scientists and program directors who work directly with Native students to broaden participation in the field. Data was analyzed using qualitative methods and constant comparison analysis. Barriers Native students faced in this field are discussed, as well as supports which go the furthest in assisting achievement of higher education goals. Program directors give insight into building pathways and programs to encourage Native student participation and success in Earth Science degree programs. Factors which impede obtaining a college degree include financial barriers, pressures from familial obligations, and health issues. Factors which impede the decision to study Earth Science include unfamiliarity with geoscience as a field of study and career choice, the uninviting nature of Earth Science as a profession, and curriculum that is irrelevant to the practical needs of Native communities or courses which are inaccessible geographically. Factors which impede progress that are embedded in Earth Science programs include educational preparation, academic information and counseling and the prevalence of a Western scientific perspective to the exclusion of all other perspectives. Intradepartmental relationships also pose barriers to the success of some students, particularly those who are non-traditional students (53%) or women (80%). Factors which support degree completion include financial assistance, mentors and mentoring, and research experiences. Earth scientists can begin broaden participation by engaging in community-inspired research, which stems from the needs of a community and is developed in collaboration with it. Designed to be useful in meeting the needs of the community, it should include using members of the community to help gather and analyze data. These community members could be students or potential students who might be persuaded to pursue an Earth Science degree.