By Lydia Quintana
Photo Credit: Doug Ratcliff
I was honored to have attended the GeoFORCE graduation ceremony in Houston, Tex., in July 2012. The students were wearing smiles from ear to ear and looking forward to receiving their certificates. I wasn't sure who was proudestthe students or their parents.
GeoFORCE is a selective outreach program of the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences that targets challenged schools in rural and inner city areas. The program engages and rewards outstanding 8th through 12th grade students from select Southwest Texas and Houston schools. GeoFORCE encourages students in the program to challenge themselves
academically throughout high school and to broaden their view and understanding of the planet. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors are encouraged, especially in the geosciences and engineering. The schools in Houston are 98 percent minority, and in Southwest Texas, 88 percent minority. They are also 75 percent economically disadvantaged, and about 60 percent of the students in the target schools are considered at-risk (unlikely to pursue their studies seriously and, consequently, to graduate from high school). Many of the GeoFORCE students are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher learning because of a lack of parental experience with college, a language barrier, a cultural barrier, or a challenging geographic location.
In groups of eight, the students presented a skit that focused on what they learned over the past year (see photo below).
From left to right: Inmer Cardona, Darlene Tu, Alan Morales, Jose Jimenez, Eric Cruz, Jackie Rambo, Daniela Zuniga, Kimberly Gonzalez.
Photo Credit: Lydia Quintana, USGS
The students are so excited to get into GeoFORCE that even an appendicitis attack doesn't stop them! I say that because during one of the field trips, a student required an emergency appendectomy. Almost immediately after surgery, the first thing he said was, "I want to continue on the field trip." Needless to say, his parents were notified of this development. Knowing how important this program was for their son, they agreed to let him continue.
GeoFORCE has been in operation since 2005, with a high school graduation rate of 100 percent. It has more than 268 college students currently enrolled in over 50 colleges and universities throughout Texas and the United States.
Each summer, GeoFORCE takes over 600 high school students on breathtaking geologic field trips, some of which include the Grand Canyon, InnerSpace Caverns, Crater Lake, Carlsbad Caverns, and the Appalachian Mountains. Field trips are taught by university faculty and research scientists, and students are mentored by professional geologists such as our own Randall Orndorff, a USGS geologist and Director of the Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center.
Graduations are all about an ending and a beginning. For these students, I can honestly say that GeoFORCE has prepared them with a solid foundation to allow them to fully reach their potential.
More on GeoFORCE...
In some cases, USGS efforts aimed at supporting young folks in their education and their career development overlap. GeoFORCE and EdMap offer a case in point.
Lydia Quintana is a program analyst in the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program Office and helps manage the EdMap program. You can learn more about EdMap in our article in this issue, "NCGMP Celebrates Funding Its 1,000th EdMap Student."
EdMap funds professors to train university students how to make geologic maps. That program has been looking for ways in the long run to increase the diversity of these students. To that end, Lydia and Randy Orndorff have accompanied GeoFORCE on several field trips, acting as mentors and advisors. They have also met with the students' parents and helped them in the college application process. In addition, one GeoFORCE student has made it to EdMap.
The outcome has been a win-win for USGS and the students we supportas well as those we will continue to support in the months and years ahead!