A path to success through GeoPaths

UWEC program designed to increase diversity in geosciences

Charlotte Becker

More stories from Charlotte Becker


Photo by J. Brian Mahoney

A group of GeoPaths students conducts field research.

A UW-Eau Claire geoscience program called GeoPaths is in the second year of a three-year grant program, which is aiming to increase diversity within the field, according to J. Brian Mahoney, a UW-Eau Claire geology professor. 

“The grant is a program designed to increase representation from underrepresented minorities in geosciences,” Mahoney said. “It is a specific grant program from the National Science Foundation. They gave us $300,000 and three years for the program.”

According to assistant professor of geology, Sarah Vitale, the program is conducting outreach to regional high schools in an effort to recruit students to attend a summer program.

“The Summer Institute of Applied Geoscience is a week-long field course for high school students that are from demographics that have been historically underrepresented in geosciences,” Vitale said.

The program emphasizes the need for the geosciences fields to increase diversity, according to Vitale. GeoPaths recruits students from regional areas who may not know about their options in geology and environmental sciences. 

“The goal is to create a really strong pathway and support system to get the students to what they want to do,” Vitale said. “Especially students of color, women, first-generation students and students that might not realize what kinds of opportunities exist in geosciences.”

The students who take part in the Summer Institute in Applied Geoscience are able to learn about and participate in many different fields of geoscience, according to Mahoney. 

“The first day they go on a geologic field trip, the second day we focus on hydrogeology and groundwater, the third day we focus on sustainability issues, the fourth day we do lab exercises and then the fifth day we have an exit interview,” Mahoney said.

After completion of the summer program, returning GeoPaths students who enroll at UW-Eau Claire are able to get involved in further research, according to Mahoney. The now-first-year students would have the chance to work collaboratively with other geoscience majors. 

“The second step is called the Foundational Research Experience,” Mahoney said. “The students come in and join a UW professor a week before they start school as freshmen and for a week they get involved with a cohort working on a research project.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to increase the diversity and retention of those who work in geosciences, according to the grant. The program is structured to not only increase diversity, but to guide students on their career paths as they attend university. 

“The primary objective of this program is to establish a progressive, multi-phase intentional educational pathway that is designed to maximize engagement and retention of underrepresented minorities in the geosciences,” the geology department said.

Geology and environmental sciences would greatly benefit from an increase in diverse backgrounds, according to Vitale. 

“We recognize collectively that diversity in the geosciences is critical to addressing the issues that we face,” Vitale said. “Whether it is climate concerns, natural disasters or inequities associated with air pollution. We can not solve those issues if we do not have diversity.”

Becker can be reached at [email protected].