STEMSEAS: An Inclusive, High-Impact Model for Undergraduates to Discover Their Futures by Going to Sea

Jonathan C Lewis, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Main Campus, Geoscience, Indiana, PA, United States and Sharon K Cooper, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States
The Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Student Experiences Aboard Ships (STEMSEAS) Project leverages unused capacity during non-operational transits of ships in the U.S. academic fleet to provide undergraduate students with transformative experiences. Since 2016 we have sailed >100 students on six vessels operated by the University National Oceanographic Laboratories System (UNOLS). In this time STEMSEAS has (1) become significantly connected to existing STEM programs and assets in ways that highlight the power of occupying a STEM ecosystem “node” and, (2) provided seagoing opportunities for students from communities woefully underrepresented in geo- and ocean sciences. We will share data on the demographics of our student participants, and the impact of the program on student trajectories and attitudes toward STEM. Data for the current year are still pending but, thus far our combined cohort is ~65% female, ~15% African American, ~40% Hispanic/Latino, and ~28% community college students. Pre- and post-transit surveys reveal encouraging, positive shifts in student attitudes regarding geoscience. In particular, we see increases in (1) interest in geoscience, (2) comfort level with geoscience knowledge and, (3) understanding of available career paths. To date on a 10-point scale the students rate their exposure to professional practice at ~8.9 and they rate the overall program at ~9.3. While the impact on individual students appears to be quite substantial, we also see evidence for impact on the STEM ecosystem. STEMSEAS has started to operate, among a number of collaborative functions, as a clearinghouse for researchers to locate available and qualified undergraduate students to assist with projects, often on short notice, and as a means to collect oceanographic data in under-sampled regions. Similar models might be worth consideration for comparable operations, e.g., other research fleets and/or scientific drilling platforms.