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Studies show that a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and experiences stimulates ideas and innovation in business, science, and technology. Broadening the variety of perspectives on a problem diminishes the tendency of “group think” and increases the potential for advancing technology and industry or addressing societal issues in new ways. However, over the past 20 years, the diversity of individuals – including minority and underrepresented populations – working in the fields of science, technology and mathematics (STEM) grew only incrementally according to a recently released National Science Foundation (NSF) report (www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm). Long recognizing the value of a diverse workforce in advancing STEM research, NSF, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the U.S. university community are finding ways to increase the number of those from underrepresented groups working and studying in these fields.
One means of achieving this end for NCAR’s Directorate is to dedicate funds to encourage broader participation in scientific endeavors by non-traditional students and researchers. NCAR’s Advanced Study Program (ASP) received a portion of this money to support Sean Moore, a post-doctoral fellow. Moore, just prior to completing a post-doc appointment jointly funded by NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with support from ASP and NCAR’s Integrated Science Program, left Boulder for Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he taught a semester-long course on “Global Climate Change” at the University of New Mexico (UNM) during fall 2012.
Of UNM’s approximately 27,000 students, more than a quarter of the full-time undergraduates are of Hispanic origin, qualifying it as a minority-serving institution (MSI). Over the past several years, ASP has developed strong relationships with a number of MSIs, finding a win-win proposition in introducing ASP post-docs interested in teaching to MSI science department faculty. Post-docs acquire hands-on classroom experience, while the MSI students and professors gain exposure to some of the cutting-edge atmospheric research that the post-docs are working on. In addition, the MSIs develop a sense of the scientific services and capabilities that NCAR provides to the U.S. research community and how their institutions might benefit from these offerings.
Moore is the latest ASP post-doc to take advantage of this instructional opportunity, teaching climate science to non-science majors at UNM. Topics ranged from basic atmospheric science to discussion of how changing climate affects vector-borne disease, such as mosquito-borne incidents of dengue fever.
“Sean spent roughly 30 to 40 hours per week preparing and delivering lectures and helping students,” says ASP director, Chris Davis. “The substantial workload resulted mainly due to the fact that his expertise lay in the intersection of climate and health, rather than in the basics of climate change. However, this work allowed him to become very familiar with the broader subject and develop material that can be used in the future.”
Moore’s class, which was offered to upper division undergraduates, filled to capacity with students coming from a wide array of backgrounds and preparation, says David Gutzler, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UNM, who has taught the course in years past.
“I think our curriculum and students greatly benefited from having Sean Moore teach a class here,” continues Gutzler. “I hope we have an opportunity to host another postdoc if ASP continues that aspect of the program.”