Understanding Perceptions of the Geosciences Among Minority and Nonminority Undergraduate Students

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Articles and Special Issues
Sherman-Morris, K., & McNeal, K. S. (2016). Understanding Perceptions of the Geosciences Among Minority and Nonminority Undergraduate Students. Journal of Geoscience Education, 64(2), 147-156. DOI: 10.5408/15-112.1
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This study augments existing literature in understanding student perceptions about the geosciences; we examined the choice of major and science courses taken by 645 students at a large southeastern research university. Differences were examined between underrepresented minority (URM) and nonminority students. We compared responses regarding not only different sciences but also different subfields of geoscience, and where possible, we compared those subjects with biology. Our results show significant differences in (1) the selection of a college major, (2) the selection of science electives, (3) characteristics of the ideal career, (4) interest and self-efficacy in science and math, and (5) career perceptions of geoscience and other select sciences among URM and nonminority students. We identified three main factors that contributed to student selection of college major, including important influencers, sustained identification with or interest in that major, and descriptors of the major itself. We also found that a student’s advisor may be one of the greatest factors in which science classes an undergraduate student takes at a university. Finally, our research showed that the geosciences scored lower than other science subjects with respect to student perceptions in its ability to help the environment, help society, help them find a job, and salary. This was true for each of the geoscience fields measured when compared with every other science, technology, engineering, and math fields measured with the exception of physics.


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