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IUPUI receives NSF grant to enhance geosciences education, expand community engagement

For Immediate Release Oct 23, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – A three-year, $428,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will enable IUPUI researchers to enhance geosciences education and inspire future solutions to community problems. The endeavor is designed to engage undergraduates, especially those typically unrepresented in the study of the Earth and its environment, such as first-generation college students and students of color.

The novel IUPUI program, which will be made available to colleges and universities across the nation, benefits both undergraduates and the communities in which they live as well as encourages the pursuit of geosciences careers.

“Most undergraduates with an interest in science, especially those who attended urban public schools, discover earth and environmental sciences too late to select these fields as majors, meaning they seldom go into geosciences careers,” said the NSF grant’s principal investigator, Gabriel Filippelli, a professor of earth sciences in the School of Science. “These students often have no conception that there is a connection between training in geosciences and the ability to improve their communities, cities and states.

“With our new program, we hope to recruit, retain and empower students to use the geosciences to work on and solve problems in the soil, water and air that surround them,” he said.

Filippelli, who is also the newly named editor-in-chief of the journal GeoHealth, is an internationally respected researcher and educator in the field of medical geology. He is the founding director of IUPUI’s Center for Urban Health and received the IUPUI Chancellor’s Award for Civic Engagement in 2013 and the Charles R. Bantz Chancellor’s Community Fellowship in 2017. Among his many interests is lead in the urban environment, including the soil and air.

The new IUPUI educational program will use targeted mentoring, course material focusing on real-world problems and proactive community engagement. Highlights include:

  • Early exposure for students to the geosciences, with the opportunity to explore environmental justice inside and outside of the classroom through an IUPUI themed learning community.
  • Specially designed hybrid classroom-field modules inserted into existing Department of Earth Sciences courses to increase student interest in community involvement and geosciences careers.
  • A fellowship program in which any undergraduate can apply for a small grant to conduct an earth or environmental sciences-related project with an actively engaged community partner.

Co-principal investigators on the NSF grant are professor of earth sciences Pierre-André Jacinthe, director of IUPUI’s Center for Earth and Environmental Sciences and an expert in biogeochemistry; associate professor of earth sciences Kathy J. Licht, a 2017 recipient of the IUPUI Trustees Teaching Award and an expert in glacial geology; associate professor Gregory Druschel, an expert in geochemistry; assistant professor of earth sciences Lixin Wang, an ecohydrologist; and Justin L. Hess, assistant director of IUPUI’s STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute.

Approximately 2,500 undergraduates, 250 master’s students and 200 doctoral candidates are enrolled in the School of Science, whose faculty currently hold more than $20 million in external research funding. 

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