The United States needs to increase the number of awarded STEM undergraduate degrees by about 34% annually over current rates to meet the high demand for scientists and engineers in the workforce. Furthermore, the geosciences, which address complicated and dynamic Earth systems, are one of the least diverse STEM fields. Thus, recruiting, retaining, and preparing the next generation of diverse geoscientists remains a top priority if the U.S. is to remain a leader in the geosciences. This program, Academic Year Pathways Research Experience Program (AY-PREP), exposes students to a wide-range of career opportunities, emerging geoscience topics and environmental issues through hands-on activities and research experiences, and prepares them as future geoscientists through stratified mentoring and training of professional and soft skills.
The El Paso region, surrounded by the Franklin Mountains and within the Chihuahuan Desert, provides an ideal natural setting for exploring geoscience and environmental issues. Located at the southern end of the Rio Grande Rift and along the Rio Grande River, geology in El Paso features visible and easily accessible fault scarps, basin and range topography, and volcanoes. Furthermore, the El Paso area shares many environmental challenges with our border city, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, including limited fresh water resources, elevated soil salinity in agriculture, and dust and air pollution issues. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is building upon past, successful efforts to broaden participation in STEM, as well as leverage UTEP's unique demographic (80% Hispanic) and research infrastructure, to develop a comprehensive program that recruits, retains, and prepares the next generation of diverse geoscientists to earn advance degrees and/or enter the workforce: Academic Year Pathways Research Experience Program (AY-PREP). The program includes: 1) an academic year interdisciplinary research experience for a cohort of six undergraduates per year, 2) weekly seminars and workshops to expose students to cutting-edge research, graduate programs, and career opportunities, and prepare students for technical, professional, and soft skills; 3) a stratified mentoring program; 4) opportunities for the cohort to participate in the deployment of a seismic field experiment; and 5) a two-week summer bridge camp that brings together incoming AY-PREP students, undergraduate students, senior high school students, and pre-service teachers. The summer camp includes field trips to the Jemez Critical Zone Observatory in New Mexico, integration of IRIS Education and Outreach programming, training on geophysical/geochemical instrumentation and sensor technology, and the synthesis of large datasets that serve as a foundation for undergraduate student research projects.