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NSF Grant Steers Students Toward the Geosciences

Hofstra is launching a summer program that will immerse teams of college and high school students in environmental and sustainability research to encourage them to pursue studies and careers in the geosciences.

Funded by a three-year, $347,530 National Science Foundation grant, the program will support four teams of student researchers, each consisting of a Hofstra undergraduate student, a Long Island high school student, and a K-12 student teacher from Hofstra’s School of Education. Each team will be supervised by a Hofstra professor.

Dr. Christa Farmer

“The growing geoscience job market presents exciting new opportunities to contribute to sustainability and the well-being of society,” said Dr. Christa Farmer, an associate professor of geology, environment and sustainability and principal investigator of the grant. “For a variety of reasons, students are not being made aware of these opportunities. This is especially true in underrepresented communities.”

Creating research teams with students at different educational levels is a unique feature of the grant, Farmer said, noting that the inclusion of preservice (student) teachers is especially important. The hope, she said, is that once they graduate and have their own classrooms, they will incorporate environmental studies into their lessons.

“We need teachers in the elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to communicate the importance of this field,” Farmer said. 

The program, called GEOTeams: Summer Research Pathways to Geoscience Using a Novel Multilevel Team Approach, will begin in the summer of 2020. The program is open to all Hofstra undergraduate students in STEM-related majors. An advisory council, made up of local teachers and school administrators, will be created to help with recruitment of high school students, with a focus on those schools with high concentrations of low-income and underrepresented populations.

Dr. Bret Bennington, chair of Hofstra’s Department of Geology, Environment and Sustainability and one of the grant’s co-principal investigators, said the program is designed to expose students to a broader range of career options in the sciences.

“Many students, when they are thinking about science, initially associate it with biology and chemistry and careers in healthcare,” Bennington said. “We are hoping to expand their horizons. We want them to think beyond medicine.”

GEOTeam members will participate in an intensive five-week project that may focus on hydrogeology, sedimentology, geohazards, climate or biogeochemistry. Time will be set aside for weekly seminars and workshops to introduce students to research processes, safety training and career development.

The new program builds on the strength of the University’s long-running summer science offerings. For example, five geology majors recently returned from Greece where they were working with Assistant Professor Antonios Marsellos, a geohazards expert, to monitor volcanic activity on the islands of Santorini and Nisyros. Marsellos is a co-principal investigator for the grant.

Another ongoing summer program involving Hofstra students and high school students involves Assistant Professor Jase Bernhardt, director of Hofstra’s meteorology program and a co-principal investigator for the grant. Dr. Bernhardt and the students are working out of Point Lookout Beach this summer with virtual reality technology. The equipment simulates a rip current and teaches beachgoers how to maneuver their way to safety. It also collects data on the public’s reactions.

Hofstra also offers the Summer Science Research Program (HUSSRP), which gives research-oriented high school students the opportunity to work with Hofstra science faculty. Additionally, Hofstra is in the second year of a four-year $240,000 grant awarded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery’s Living with the Bay Program. The funds provide opportunities to local Long Island high school students to do environmental research under a Hofstra faculty mentor.

Drs. Bennington and Farmer say their strong connections with area high schools, the formation of an advisory council, made up of local teachers and administrators, and Hofstra faculty’s extensive experience mentoring high school and undergraduate research students will help to ensure the success of the program.

Top photo: High school students in the summer of 2018 had the opportunity to work with Dr. Farmer as part of the Living with the Bay Program. They were assigned to collect GPS information at the Lido Beach Marine Conservation Area.

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