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Over the past five years, the Increasing Diversity and Enhancing Academia (IDEA) program provided meaningful research experiences to 42 undergraduate students and geoscience focused science enrichment programming for 105 high school students. The program achieved its goal of increasing the number of underrepresented minority and female students in the geosciences, including Earth, Ocean, Atmospheric and Geospatial sciences.

Francesca Peay presenting poster at 17th Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research

The IDEA Undergraduate Research program provided research internships to students from UNC-Chapel Hill, Elizabeth City State University, Johnson C. Smith University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and UNC-Charlotte. All of the IDEA students presented posters at university symposia and some presented at regional, national, and international conferences. A few students even had the opportunity to co-author peer-reviewed journal articles, software and websites.

In addition to gaining research experience and technical skills, these students developed productive relationships with their research mentors and prepared themselves to be mentors in the future. Furthermore, participants indicated that the IDEA program increased their level of confidence in their research skills and ability to pursue a graduate degree.

IDEA high school students conducting stream sampling at local creek

With equal success, the IDEA High School program introduced students to critical thinking and team building skills, as well as visits to research settings, including labs, field sites and university classrooms. Participating students gained knowledge about issues that directly impacted their communities, such as water quality and climate change.

Likewise, evaluation data showed that a majority of these students reported increased interest in geosciences, in science careers and in attending college following the program. Overall, the IDEA program enabled participating students to envision themselves as future geoscientists and to see the geoscience departments at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC Central University as viable options for college.

Kaylyn Gootman (left), a PhD candidate, works with junior environmental science major Savannah Swinea on a stream-bed clogging experiment

Funding for IDEA was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a 5-year grant to the Environmental Resource Program at the UNC Institute for the Environment. In May of 2017, a new undergraduate cohort began the next generation of the program – IDEA 2.0 – funded through the NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience program. Over the next three years, IDEA 2.0 will involve partnerships with the UNC School of Education and the NCCU Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences.

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