Program provides pathway for minority student success in geosciences

Friday, November 15, 2019
Nine students study geosciences at UNH.

Leaving your comfort zone and jumping into a whole new experience can be nerve-wracking. But for the nine undergraduates who traveled from the mid-Atlantic to take part in an intensive geoscience research program this summer at UNH, they emerged from this experience with newfound confidence and an interest in what they studied.

From the Seacoast salt marshes to the laboratories at UNH, the nine students packed a lot of science and learning into the four-week program, dubbed CLOSES-GAP (for Collaborative Link to Ocean Science and Earth Science Graduate Academic Programs). For most of those undergrads, CLOSES-GAP was chockfull of first-time experiences — boat rides, field work and simply being far away from home for the first time — which ultimately made it that much more fulfilling for them.

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CLOSES-GAp students Marci-Ann Smith and Rhyan Knight prepare to collect sediment cores in great bay.

With funding provided by the National Science Foundation, CLOSES-GAP provides an opportunity for undergraduates at three minority-serving institutions — Rutgers University - Newark, the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore, and Delaware State University — to wade into marine and Earth sciences and ignite their passion for research. This year’s program was the first of three, and Varner aims to recruit new students each subsequent year from those same institutions.

“The goal of the program is to recruit students from different backgrounds and help diversify the field of geosciences, which is notoriously lacking in diversity,” says Ruth Varner, UNH professor of geosciences who co-leads CLOSES-GAP with Tom Lippmann, UNH associate professor of oceanography, Julie Bryce, interim director for the UNH Leitzel Center and Florencia Fahnestock, a research scientist in Earth sciences. UNH is uniquely poised to host such a program because, as Varner explains, “We have a lot of expertise in the geosciences here at UNH, and we’re located relatively close to the water.”

Several UNH undergraduate and graduate students volunteered to share their scientific expertise to guide the CLOSES-GAP students on their sampling, data acquisition and interpretation.

After the first week of collecting sediment cores from salt marshes around the Seacoast and in Great Bay, the visiting students spent the next few weeks analyzing the samples, learning a new statistics pro