$2.1 Million Grant to NCCU Aims to Diversify Geosciences

Posted April 23, 2024, 2:44PM

The Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences (DEEGS) at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) was awarded a grant of $2,145,946 to help diversify the field of geoscience. 

The grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation is part of more than $7 million that will be shared with the University of Puerto Rico and Eastern Carolina University. 

At NCCU, Department Chair Gordana Vlahovic, Ph.D., will be principal investigator and Christopher McGinn, Ph.D., Rakesh Malhotra, Ph.D., and Timothy Mulrooney, Ph.D., will be co-principal investigators. 

“For the last 50 years, geosciences have been the least diverse of all science fields,” Vlahovic said. “We know that this is hurting us.” 

In 2019, about 33% of environmental scientists and geoscientists were women, according to the American Geoscience Institute.  

From 2005 to 2019, the percentage of Black environmental scientists and geoscientists fluctuated from 1% to 7.8%. 

During the same period, the percentage of Hispanic environmental scientists and geoscientists fluctuated from about 4% to about 12%. 

The three universities attract different student bodies. NCCU is a historically Black university. Eastern Carolina University is predominantly white but also draws rural and first-generation students. The University of Puerto Rico is almost entirely composed of Latino students. 

“We’re going to try to understand how the histories of these institutions have shaped institutional practices and teaching and research,” Vlahovic said. 

Why geosciences have been less diverse is still an area of research. Vlahovic speculates that until recently it might have been predominantly male because women were discouraged from the sciences in general and because of the strong field component.  

For first-generation college students, it is important to go into a field that is considered economically stable. “They may not see this as a field they can build a career on,” Vlahovic said. 

Over five years, the three universities have two aims: change the culture of geosciences in their institutions and increase interest in geosciences. 

To accomplish this, NCCU will recruit students who have not attended graduate school to work in DEEGS and take a graduate course or two in the geosciences as a way to explore them as a career. 

There will be training for faculty, such as how to decolonize higher education institutions. There will be training for students that could include navigating academic life, how community science works and data literacy. 

There will be two intercultural summits per year for both students and faculty: a winter summit at NCCU and a summer summit at the University of Puerto Rico. 

In addition, the universities will collaborate with the East Carolina Environmental Justice Network, which will train students in how to work with communities to focus on problems relevant to them. 

"NCCU is not just reshaping the landscape of geosciences. We cultivate resilient citizens while paving the way for inclusive excellence in STEM fields,” said Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye, Ph.D. “This grant presents a great opportunity for the DEEGS. We're not just transforming the geosciences; we're cultivating a future where every person, regardless of background, is empowered to shape our understanding of the world around us." 

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