Earth Science Department Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan June 2021
The Department of Earth Science recognizes the need to build a teaching, learning, and working community that lives up to our ideals of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI). This Strategic Action Plan (SAP) outlines the priorities the department will undertake to cultivate this community over the next 2-5 years, as outlined in the Faculty JEDI mission statement (see department website).
The Earth Science department has a faculty JEDI Committee (currently 8 members + Chair and Graduate Program Coordinator, ex officio) and a student JEDI Council (~8 members, undergraduate and graduate). The faculty JEDI chairs meet with the student council 1-2 times per quarter, and individual members or sub-committee groups from the two core committees are in touch at least weekly. The committees have distinct mission statements and action plans (this document is the faculty JEDI Committee SAP). Progress on the items delineated below will be more rapid, better targeted, more student-facing, and more innovative by maximizing student involvement (both in conception and execution) via the JEDI committee-council interactions, town halls, and regular surveys.
The recruitment and/or retention of women at the faculty level, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and staff), requires attention. Currently only 5/23 FTE Earth Science faculty are women, and just 2/23 identify as historically underrepresented minorities (URMs). Between 2012 and 2020 (9 years data), the Earth Science department had, on average, a graduate population composed of 44% women and 15% URMs. The latter compares somewhat favorably to the MLPS division average (7.5% URM) and overall UCSB graduate student demography (13.5% URM). At the undergraduate level over the same decade, 42% and 29% of enrolled Earth Science majors were women and URM, respectively, compared to 53% and 32% in the general UCSB population. On the one hand, these statistics demonstrate that our department is at, or modestly below, university average for URM and female demography. However, the systematic drop-off in fractions of URM students going from the CA population (45%) to our undergrad majors (29%) to our graduate students (15%) to our faculty (8.7%) suggests that structural barriers are preventing the recruitment and/or retention of historically underrepresented groups, particularly at the faculty level. Abundant research demonstrates that this problem has been persistent and exists across our field (e.g., Bernard & Cooperdock, 2018). The disparity between approximate gender parity among our students versus just 22% female FTEs is particularly stark. Our work is centered around improving recruitment and retention of women faculty and URM at all levels, which includes undergraduate, graduate, postdocs, and faculty. We also commit to preparing our URM undergraduates well for graduate school and our graduate students for faculty jobs, doing our part to address systemic “leaks” in the pipeline into academia. Below we lay out, in order of immediacy, the actions we will take to meet this goal at each level.
In consultation with the office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), we connect the sections of this strategic action plan with the University-wide “Critical Elements” of DEI action: CE1 - Retention, CE2 - Recruitment, CE3 - Curriculum, CE4 - Climate, CE5 - Community engagement.
We identify the estimated time horizons for actions delineated below through a color-coding scheme, where the coded text corresponds to the Critical Elements, above. Blue corresponds to actions anticipated by the start of year Fall 2021. Purple indicates actions anticipated by the end of the next academic year; end Spring 2022. Red corresponds to actions anticipated within a 5 year timeframe.
The long-term goal is to ensure that students from all backgrounds are equally prepared for success in our major and in geoscience careers - including, but not limited to, academia - after they graduate.
The Earth Sciences are not commonly taught in high school, and many students arrive at college unaware of Earth Science as an academic or vocational path. This lack of familiarity is particularly the case for URM students, who may also eschew this field because they are not sure what jobs it can lead to. Our remedy will be a combination of improved advertising and cultivating relationships that put us on the radar of prospective URM students. Short-term goals include:
Fieldwork instruction within the Earth Science curriculum is a widely respected strength, and research demonstrates that positive class field experiences are associated with increased retention and success of URM students (Beltran et al., 2020). However, several studies detail that URM students can experience feelings of non-belonging and discomfort while conducting fieldwork, and these negative effects can impede progress or entry into the Earth Sciences (e.g., O’Connell & Holmes, 2011; Demery & Pipkin, 2020). Moreover, physically inaccessible fieldwork can be a literal barrier to students with disabilities (e.g., Gilley et al., 2015; Stokes et al., 2019). This past year, we have established a track through the major that does not require overnight field excursions. Further, to ensure that our field classes do not deter students from our major, we are pursuing the following initiatives:
Student retention and success in the major and after graduation relies strongly on mentorship and relationships with the faculty. Faculty mentors can provide letters of recommendation, advice and access to resources, and research opportunities; we are determined to ensure that all of our majors enjoy these privileges. In 2020-21 we implemented a new undergraduate mentoring program (CE1, CE2), assigning individual faculty advisors to each major, meeting with each major one-on-one in the fall quarter, and conducting emphasis-specific town hall meetings in the winter and spring quarters. Next steps include developing resource sheets for i) navigating the undergrad experience (CE1), ii) finding and applying to internships and jobs (CE1), iii) involvement in undergraduate research and senior theses (CE3). Undergraduate research experience is a platform to both academic and non-academic vocations. We are also seeking to: iv) incentivize and assist faculty in supervising and supporting graduate students who wish to mentor undergraduate research assistants, thereby providing the grads with mentorship experience, and opening up more opportunities for undergrad research projects (CE3); v) develop an organized undergraduate research track, with abundant faculty-directed research projects available (CE1, CE3, CE4); vi) institute a new award for graduate students who mentor undergraduate researchers (CE4).
Strengthening our alumni relations provides an opportunity to connect our majors and graduate students with alumni working in different fields, providing role models, a resource to learn about different Earth Science career paths, and potential career connections. Having a stronger alumni network would also provide insight into the most common career paths pursued by our undergraduate and graduate students, which would be valuable when assessing and improving our curriculum (CE3). The first step in this process is to develop an online alumni community, through sites such as LinkedIn and social media accounts. We also intend to—and below request funds for—creating a large alumni database (CE4).
The long-term goal is to ensure that our graduate population is diverse, and that students from a range of backgrounds are provided the support structures they need to flourish in academia.
Recruiting diverse students into our undergraduate program will help build diversity in the field as a whole, but we also need to take more direct steps to increase the number of URMs among our applicants. The singular circumstances of the 2021 admission season produced a diverse application pool without precedent - 43% of applicants were URM or first generation or both. This resulted in 50% of our incoming 2021 graduate students identifying with at least one of these categories. To reproduce this outcome in future years, we must identify, then actively recruit from, minority-serving institutions with vigorous Earth science programs (just 1/107 HBCUs has an Earth Systems Science major, and none has a geology major). To improve access for all students, we have voted to remove the GRE from our graduate applications, and are working to demystify an application process filled with implicit assumptions that disadvantage first-generation applicants. Specific recruitment efforts include: participation in the California Consortium for Inclusive Doctoral Education (C-CIDE)’s workshop on recruitment practices planned for later this year (see below) (CE2), developing a guide that articulates Why Graduate School in Earth Science (CE2); revamping our website so that it displays graduate student voices, experiences and perspectives and highlights their achievements (CE2); developing a pipeline with CSU and community colleges and developing guidelines for faculty to initiate contact with prospective students (CE2). It is also imperative that our department culture (Section 4) is welcoming of people from all backgrounds, so that URM students are able to flourish.
Our department made significant changes in our admissions practices this year. Following guidance from C-CIDE’s Equity in Graduate Admissions Workshop, we adopted a rubric-based holistic review process that includes evaluation of JEDI attributes (e.g., evidence of deep and sustained disadvantage in society; evidence of sustained involvement in JEDI advocacy) and non-cognitive competencies (e.g., resilience, work ethic, and curiosity) along with more traditional metrics (grades, writing ability, independent research experience) (CE2). We are currently working on additional improvements to our admissions process next year, including tailoring our admissions questions (currently our ‘Personal Achievements/Contributions statement’) so that they allow better evaluation of non-cognitive competencies and JEDI contributions (CE2).
Areas we are considering include training in teaching techniques, field safety, wilderness first aid, and sexual harassment and microaggression bystander training for both classroom and field settings (CE3, CE4). The training programs could include both university-wide programs (e.g., Instructional Development’s Pillars of Teaching Assistantship Program) and new training sessions within the department (CE4). An undergraduate in the department conducted geoscience education research into our TA training, and found that nearly half of our TAs felt that they had received inadequate subject-specific and field-specific training. Beyond the trainings outlined above, we will be encouraging all faculty to conduct weekly check-ins with TAs, and to develop course-specific TA “roles and responsibilities” documents, with templates provided in the handbook (CE3). As above, we will make wilderness first aid and field safety training available department-wide.
Because of the diversity of research programs in our department, we follow an admissions model whereby prospective students are assigned an advisor (or two co-advisors) at the time they are accepted. To foster productive and harmonious advisor-student relationships, the JEDI and Graduate committees will help interested faculty develop a document that outlines lab expectations so that there is effective communication of expectations for the benefit of both advisors and advisees (CE1, CE4). These committees will also develop a set of mentorship tools in a shared folder, including templates for mentor-mentees expectation evaluations, individual development plans, and meeting checklists (CE1, CE4). We will continue to review and update the existing Graduate Student Handbook, including resources to assist our students in cultivating healthy and productive relationships with their advisors (CE1, CE4). We are actively developing formal procedures to facilitate co-mentorship of students in our department (CE1, CE4), to accommodate students with diverse interests, and to accommodate situations where individual students and faculty turn out to not be compatible. We are also exploring options for hosting mentoring workshops in our department. This past spring five of our faculty participated in a workshop on mentoring offered through the Graduate Division for participating members of C-CIDE (CE1, CE4).
3. Faculty - reevaluation of faculty recruitment and retention process
Our long term goal is to diversify our faculty, and ensure that all faculty feel supported in our department. To this end, we have short term goals to reevaluate our search process from beginning (applicant pool), to middle (short list selection) to end (convincing them to come here because they feel supported).
An integral part of expanding the diversity of our faculty is a consideration of whether the department currently provides a supportive environment for women and URM faculty to flourish. This involves consideration of department culture and, in a more practical sense, the resources offered to new faculty. Initiatives that we are discussing and implementing include: i) the development of a welcoming document that will be provided to new faculty (CE4); ii) assignment of a faculty mentor who can provide guidance on student mentoring, teaching, and other university and academia-wide activities (CE4); iii) climate surveys to identify areas for improvement (CE4); iv) events that will support junior or new faculty such as monthly get-togethers where discussion of topics such as mentoring, undergraduate research ideas, building a lab group, how graduate admissions works, how funding works, etc. can occur (CE4). In addition, one of the faculty JEDI committee’s highest priorities is to work with other members of the department faculty to facilitate dialogue and communicate the latest research and best practices for creating a safe, inclusive, and equitable academic environment (CE4). As part of this effort, we will collect and maintain a list of JEDI-oriented activities that faculty can participate in will These activities will be taken into consideration in merit/promotion evaluations, per guidelines from the Dean’s office (cf. APM 210, p.5, Section 1.d).
We plan to implement several measures to increase the diversity of our applicant pool. Given that the pool of URM researchers seeking faculty positions is relatively small, we are exploring ways to reach out to URM scientists and encourage them to apply. Measures under consideration include: i) Contacting URM junior researchers well before application deadlines, and inviting them to visit our department for a multi-day visit associated with a colloquium talk (CE2). These visits would put potential candidates on the wider faculty radar and help establish potential research synergies that make URM faculty more likely to consider applying. ii) We will implement new guidelines for search committee procedures to ensure that they reach out to URM scientists with application information/encouragement, rather than mostly relying on their existing professional networks (CE2). iii) We are updating the department by-laws to ensure that a JEDI committee member is an integral part of each search and hiring committee (CE2). We are developing policies that will allow this member to quickly report and intervene if an unfair and biased selection approach is employed. iv) The Earth Science executive committee will be asked to develop a set of criteria, with clear rubric, that allow us to rank applicants in developing a shortlist of hireable faculty; contributions to JEDI will be included as a criterion of merit (CE2). v) Finally, we are working on revising our interview procedures to ensure equal treatment and assessment of all candidates, for instance using set predetermined questions, and providing an abundance of information to candidates to help remove hidden barriers to good interview performance (CE2).
4. Other departmental initiatives
We seek to improve and enhance the resources available to postdocs and visiting researchers in our department, to ensure that they are well-supported, and feel that they are recognized as an integral part of our department and university. Within the department, we will prepare an informational welcome packet with post-doc FAQs (CE1, CE4). We plan to institute a policy that new post-doctoral researchers showcase their research at our department colloquium in their first quarter at UCSB; associated with this talk they will meet with department faculty in one-on-one meetings (CE1, CE4). We are working on ways to connect the researchers in our department with other entities across campus, such as creating regular meeting spaces for Earth Research Postdocs, and setting up a diversity-encouraging scholarship in collaboration with ERI and MSI.
To improve student recruitment and improve inclusiveness of the department, we intend to evaluate whether any of the department’s required courses present obstacles to particular segments of the population. Progress is already underway to make our field-based courses more inclusive (see above). Additionally, the department will consider whether our course offerings and emphasis tracks align well with student career tracks and interests by surveying our recent alumni as well as current students (CE1, CE3, CE4). Additions or modifications to emphasis tracks within our major will be taken up at a faculty retreat (CE3). To improve the experience of our current students and assist with recruitment efforts, we also intend to publish on our website more information about each course’s content (e.g., syllabus), expectations (workload, field trips, etc.), and how frequently it is offered (CE1, CE2, CE3). The department will also evaluate whether the number of credit units listed for each course accurately reflects the course workload and update these if appropriate. Improvements to the graduate introductory class (201A) to include discussion of research ethics, work-life balance, mental health, TA training, and JEDI issues in science are ongoing, and we intend to evaluate the graduate student program examinations going forward (CE1, CE3, CE4).
Our department must redouble its efforts to foster a climate in which all feel welcome. This involves educating ourselves about the barriers and difficulties faced by department members, and establishing multiple channels of communication so that we identify evolving needs. We plan the following:
This SAP is associated with a budget request to the Dean’s office to support the initiatives laid out above. That budget request is redacted in this public document.
To hold ourselves accountable for the actions and initiatives laid out above, we propose the following:
 For a definition of terms, see the Earth Science JEDI Committee mission statement.
 Of which 3/5 were hired in the last five years.
 Defined by the UCSB Office of Budget and Planning as individuals identifying with “Chicano, Latino, African American, American Indian/Alaskan, and Native American” groups.
 The fraction of women in our major has seen a significant change over the last decade, increasing almost linearly from 27% in 2012 to 57% in 2020.
 The Earth Science URM fraction has also changed over the last decade, albeit not monotonically. From 2012-2015, we averaged 27% URM majors, while from 2016-2020 we averaged 33.5% URM majors.
 The fraction of women in the UCSB undergrad has remained constant over the last decade, but the URM fraction has increased linearly from 29% to 35% in that time. For wider reference, according to www.census.gov ~45% of the overall CA population was a member of a URM group in 2019; demographic statistics on college-aged Californians were not available at this time.
 Note also that the demographic numbers for 2020-21 alone are very promising: the fraction of Earth Science URM students at graduate and undergraduate levels are 21% and 39%, respectively, comparing favourably to the overall UCSB URM fractions (19% and 34%) for this year.
 E.g., Gibson and Puniwai (2006)Integrating Native Hawaiian Traditional Knowledge with Earth System Science, Journal of Geoscience Education, 54(3), pp 287-294.