Increasing Undergraduate Participation in the Geosciences Through the Partnership of University Housing and Academics

William Jones, University of South Carolina, Green Quad Living, Learning Community / Housing, Columbia, SC, United States, Claudia R Benitez-Nelson, University of South Carolina, School of the Earth, Ocean, and Environment, Columbia, SC, United States and Karen McNeal, Auburn University, Geosciences, Auburn, AL, United States
The overarching goal of the GeoScholar Program at the University of South Carolina (UofSC) is to increase the number of academically talented low-income, minority, and first-generation college students that pursue and complete undergraduate geoscience degrees within the School of the Earth, Ocean, and Environment (SEOE). In addition to tuition support, students receive a supplement to live at the Green Quad (GQ) Living and Learning Community that promotes sustainable activities across campus and has an onsite Faculty Principal and mentoring team. Our GeoScholar Program has a retention rate of 90% (n =22). A combined Likert-scale and open-ended pre-post survey was developed to assess GeoScholar Program participants, first year students enrolled in a SEOE majors only course, and students from unrepresented backgrounds with high financial need but not in the GeoScholar Program or an SEOE major enrolled in an Introduction to the Environment course. The survey included five scales soliciting student perceptions of: (i) their sense of belonging in the geosciences, (ii) their self-efficacy and interest in the geosciences, (iii) the perceived barriers and supports to pursuing the geosciences, (iv) their views on their residence hall supports to their academic program and (v) a grit scale. Preliminary results show that GeoScholars have more positive views about their housing experiences, feel a greater sense of belonging, are more active participants in activities beyond the classroom, and have more positive views on their academic success (p < 0.000) relative to their geoscience peers. On-site GQ residency and intensive one on one mentoring by Geoscience Faculty were critical to GeoScholars sense of belonging. Our results also showed that all students who lived in the GQ had significantly more positive views about their housing experience and significantly greater academic progress regardless of their major. The results of this program have been so successful that we are now working to institutionalize our programs across the College of Arts and Sciences at the UofSC.