Spotlight on JSG Researchers for High School Students

By Megan Flansburg, PhD 2022

During the spring ‘19 semester I was the student liaison and project coordinator for a video series used in this year’s (’19-’20) Texas OnRamps geoscience course, entitled Earth, Wind, and Fire (EWF). I was drawn to work at OnRamps because of their mission to improve college enrollment in under-represented groups and how the online course format made the study of Earth Science more accessible to teachers and students in high schools across the state of Texas. My first exposure to Texas OnRamps was working as a grader for essays, sketches, and labs in the EWF course, but I have enjoyed working in a flexible role. Being a project coordinator was a fun and interactive learning experience for me as I wrote video scripts, worked with the tech gurus at UT Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS), and (often frantically) coordinated the schedules of JSG* faculty, students, alumni, and OnRamps staff to fit the available video recording sessions at the LAITS studio on campus!

Experience College Before College

Nationwide, over half of high school graduates never complete a college degree+. Under the umbrella of UT’s Office of Strategy and Policy, Texas OnRamps is a dual-enrollment high school course program with a curriculum designed to expose students from all socio-economic backgrounds to the academic expectations of higher education institutions. Other goals of the program are to increase the number and diversity of Texas high school students who enroll, stay in, and graduate from four-year institutions, all while setting them up for success in future careers that would have been out of their reach without a college degree. According to the 2017-2018 published data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics+ and the U.S. Department of Education+,  only ~40% of U.S. high school graduates complete bachelor’s degrees. Texas OnRamps works to increase this percentage in Texas high school graduates by providing the opportunity to take courses in high school that result in college credit here at UT-Austin or at Texas Tech University. As of January 2020, there are over 35,000 Texas high school students dual-enrolled through OnRamps.

OnRamps Geoscience: Earth, Wind, and Fire

In addition to coursework in their high school Earth Science (or equivalent) curriculum, students enrolled in the OnRamps EWF course participate in labs, reading and writing assignments, and exams that are mediated through the online Canvas learning management platform. Upon successful completion, these students earn UT credit for JSG’s GEOL 302E, an introductory geology course with the same name aimed at non-majors and taught by Dr. Joel Johnson (DGS*). His philosophy is that the course is about “geoscience literacy—what every educated person should understand about the functioning of Earth and human environments.”

Perspectives in Geoscience Video Series

I worked closely with Alison Mote, the Geoscience Course Manager at Texas OnRamps, to create a video series aimed at highlighting the different types of research and backgrounds of geoscientists without the jargon inherent in scientific writing or science-focused blogs. Each video in the six-part series centers on a JSG-affiliated researcher (or two) whose work aligns with a unit of the year-long EWF course. While the “pilot” video includes myself (always hard to see and hear yourself!), enjoy watching these short videos of JSG scientists explaining their research in plain-language!


Unit 1—Plate Tectonics:

Megan Flansburg (PhD ’22) and Dr. Tomas Capaldi (PhD ’19)


Unit 2—Earth’s Freshwater Systems:

Dr. Daniella Rempe (DGS) and Alison Tune (PhD ’21)


Unit 3—Life Through Time:

Dr. Julia Clarke (DGS) and Sarah Davis (PhD ’21)


Unit 4—Earth’s Climate and Glaciers:

Dr. Ginny Catania (DGS and UTIG*) and Sophie Goliber (PhD ’22)


Unit 5—Geologic Hazards: Arisa Ruangsirikulchai (BS ’19)


Unit 6—Earth and Mineral Resources:

Stanley Stackhouse (Senior Geologist at BXP, BS ’07 and MS ’09)

Through programs like OnRamps, more students are becoming science-literate. As scientists, it is important for us to practice speaking about our research, and science in general, in language without jargon and complex sentence structure. This makes science more accessible to everyone and I appreciated the opportunity to use this type of scientific speaking skill. This semester, I look forward to continue working with Alison Mote at OnRamps on EWF course enchancement objectives.

Left: Sophie Goliber (PhD ’22) and Dr. Ginny Catania (UTIG, DGS) ready for “Action!” in the LAITS studio. Right: Dr. Tomas Capaldi (PhD ’19) poses and talks through his research as a placement reference on the green-screen for the LAITS studio staff.


The Texas OnRamps homepage states “Most students who graduate from high school never complete a college degree.” For those curious about the statistics (like myself), I verified this statement using 2011-2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education. While ~68% of high school graduates enroll in college nationwide, only 60% of those students complete a degree (at a public institution). This means that 60% of high school students do not graduate from college (while ~40% do complete their degree). I calculated this using data from public institutions for students that completed a degree within six years of starting their degree. The percentage of students who complete a college degree is lower at for-profit institutions (~20% of those who start), but is higher at non-profit institutions (~70% of those who start), particularly those that have a lower than 25% acceptance rate (~93% of those who start).


JSG = Jackson School of Geosciences

DGS = Department of Geological Sciences

UTIG = University of Texas Institute for Geophysics