STEMFORCE: Building the Next Generation of Geoscientists

STEMFORCE-fig-1The ever-growing age gap within the oil and gas industry workforceis a phenomenon that companies are all too aware of. It is projected that within five to seven years, roughly 50 percent of the industry’s workforce will be retired. STEMFORCE, funded in part by Drillinginfo and founded by the organization GeoFORCE Texas, is a new program that aims to encourage students to pursue careers in the geosciences by exposing high school students to geologic fieldwork.

Last week I took our first STEMFORCE cohort of 36 students from the Dallas and Austin areas to Florida to learn about river and coastal processes. For many of these students, this was their very first time on an airplane as well their first time travelling to another state. Over the first two days of the trip I could tell that many students were having trouble grasping the “big idea” concepts of geology, such as the processes that change the Earth’s surface. Once we were out in the field however, and the students were able to physically see modern beach processes occurring on the Florida coast, I began to see my students having “Aha!” moments as they connected the dots. Showing the students how the Earth’s surface is constantly changing and how these processes are reflected in the rock record is fundamental to their understanding of the foundations of geology.

Over this six-day field course the students expanded not only their knowledge of the geosciences but also their ability to work within a team. At each beach stop I watched as they learned to collaborate with each other, divide up work and delegate roles so they could finish each assignment on time. These beach profiling activities forced students to think like scientists by making observations, and, as the National Academy of Sciences states, by “using evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena.” Having the students perform the same type of field work and record the same type of observations that geologists might do is another important way we are able to expose students to careers in the geosciences.

Forbes, July 6, 2015

Featuring: Bridget Haby, GeoFORCE Texas coordinator