The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences’ premier diversity program recognized a silver lining and used the opportunity to roll out exciting new programming that will increase outreach to underrepresented youth.
Adding energy to the expansion, a donor stepped up in a big way with a challenge match of up to $750,000 to support the growth of the GeoFORCE Texas program. The goal of this match is to connect students to a variety of companies and individuals working in STEM.
The geosciences are the least diverse of the STEM ﬁelds. Through GeoFORCE Texas, the Jackson School is partnering with underserved school districts to help drive student interest in careers in STEM, with a focus on the geosciences. During summer academies, students take trips to some of the most spectacular geologic sites in Texas and throughout the United States and learn ﬁrst-hand from geoscientists
in the ﬁeld, the lab and the classroom. In 2015, GeoFORCE Texas was recognized with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring — the highest such honor from the United States government.
When travel was halted and in-person activities were canceled for the summer of 2020, the GeoFORCE team jumped into action. Within weeks, they curated professional online geoscience resources and created virtual curriculum to keep the
program’s participants engaged. The unique ﬁeld experiences continued, but this time they were from the comfort of students’ own homes. This got GeoFORCE Texas program director Leah Turner thinking — what better way to expand the reach of the program than to oﬀer virtual academies every summer in addition to the ﬁeld experiences? Starting
in summer of 2022, that’s exactly what will happen. All interested students in areas the program serves will be able to participate in the ﬁeld or virtually.
“Every year, GeoFORCE has a waitlist of students because the ﬁeld experiences can only accommodate a certain number of students per cohort due to travel costs,” Turner said. “No one should have to miss out because of limited bus space.”
The program’s growth didn’t stop there. Beginning this summer, cohorts were added from school districts in Central Texas including Austin, Del Valle, Manor and Pﬂugerville. These joined the original cohorts that were formed in southwest Texas when the program was created in 2005. In 2008, the program expanded to schools in the Houston Independent School District.
Now, STEM educational opportunities will be oﬀered throughout the year in addition to the summer academies. GeoFORCE sponsors will connect with students through workshops, professional development trainings, individualized mentoring and much more. The goal is to keep students thinking about big geologic questions that impact society all year and to help prepare them for college and future careers. By bringing on new STEM-focused companies as sponsors, students will get broader exposure to opportunities and career paths.
Recognizing the inﬂuence family has on a student’s decision to attend college, GeoFORCE is launching the GeoFORCE Family pilot program. Sponsored by Repsol, the program will start with cohorts from southwest Texas and focus on informing their parents, guardians and siblings about the educational experiences and job opportunities available in STEM. Family members will visit Repsol’s job sites, meet some of the geoscientists and engineers that mentor their children, and learn about the college application and admissions processes. GeoFORCE hopes to expand this eﬀort to Houston and Central Texas families by 2023.
A key part of GeoFORCE’s success is oﬀering the experience at no cost to students. This is possible because of the generosity of its donors. Many donors have ﬁrsthand experience with these students, and that really drives home the impact of their support.
“I continue to be impressed by the students every year,” said a longtime donor who wishes to remain anonymous. “It is so much fun to see their faces light up when they see the Grand Canyon and Crater Lake. It is amazing to see them experience the science ﬁrsthand and realize that they can study the Earth in college. Then they realize there are careers they never would have considered, and the options are wide open to them. GeoFORCE changes their lives!”
Because of the impact he has witnessed during his interactions with students, this donor and his wife have established a matching gift challenge to expand GeoFORCE’s inﬂuence on underserved students in Texas. They will match every new gift to the program over the next 4 years, dollar for dollar, up to $750,000. Over the years, GeoFORCE Texas has largely been supported by companies in the oil and gas industry. While these relationships remain strong, diversifying sponsoring industries will yield even greater results. If you or your company are interested in increasing diversity in the geosciences, please contact Kristen Tucek at or (512) 775-6745 to learn more about this critical matching-gift initiative.