Sparks for Change Project

The diversity of faculty in the geosciences remains far below the population as a whole, and this has an effect on attracting and retaining a diverse student body. The Sparks for Change Institute focuses on improving the retention of underrepresented faculty by using small groups comprised of junior underrepresented minority (URM) faculty interested in broadening participation (BP) efforts (‘sparks’), more senior partners in the same departments (‘partners’) and experienced broadening participation experts (‘sponsors’) to drive change. We acknowledge that an underlying reason for a lack of focus on broadening participation efforts might be the institutional environment, where there is little departmental motivation to recognize or reward BP efforts in tenure and promotion, leading to a culture that does not view BP efforts as important, and an environment where URM faculty do not feel supported. An effective way to tackle this problem is with small groups with appropriate leadership training who are empowered and supported in developing departmental plans for changing the culture of their own department; and application of grounded theory to gather data that supports ongoing change.

Program Goals

  • Support the career progression and retention of early career minority faculty
  • Develop leadership at individual, faculty and departmental levels to overcome institutional inertia towards broadening participation
  • Empower cultural change towards inclusivity in participating departments
  • Create a mechanism for the transfer of information between different institutions on successful approaches for increasing minority participation
  • Build a community of “champions for diversity” committed to retaining diverse students and faculty and broadening participation in the geosciences

We particularly want to engage geoscience departments who have hired early career minority faculty and want to support and retain them; broadening participation experts who want to contribute to overcoming institutional inertia toward broadening participation efforts and both early and late career scientists who want inclusive departments where everyone is empowered to fully contribute to science.

Sparks for Change website


Project Staff

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Sennai Habtes

co-PI of the Sparks for Change Project

University of the Virgin Islands

Sennai Habtes is a research assistant professor of Biological Oceanography within the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). He is currently the lead researcher for the coastal oceanography emerging research area in the NSF - EPSCoR funded, Mare Nostrum Caribbean Research program ( His research falls primarily within the fields of fisheries oceanography and ocean observing and focuses on the use of oceanographic and biological time series data to study patterns in, and impacts to marine organisms in tropical and subtropical marine systems. Although relatively new to academia, during his graduate education he was awarded an NSF and FL-GA Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation – Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Minority PhD fellowship, and a Florida Education Fund McKnight Doctoral fellowship, through which he was able to regularly attend the Compact for Faculty Diversity annual Institute on Teaching and Mentoring. Sennai has also worked with the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in the Earth Systems Sciences (MSPHD’S) program as an assistant coordinator helping to develop professional development opportunities, science exposure, networking opportunities, and mentoring relationships for undergraduate URM students to facilitate their increased participation in the Earth System Sciences.

The sparks for change program is focused on building leadership skills for several faculty levels within geoscience departments to change departmental culture, and better attract and retain early career underrepresented minority (URM) geoscience faculty and students. Dr. Habtes will use his experience in broadening participation efforts in selecting program participants, and will also work closely with the evaluation efforts, particularly focusing on the change experienced by the early career faculty involved in the program and impacts towards recruitment and retention of URM's.

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Rebecca (Bec) Batchelor

co-PI of the Sparks for Change Project

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Rebecca (Bec) Batchelor is director of the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) Program, an NSF-funded undergraduate-graduate bridge program aimed at increasing diversity in the atmospheric and related sciences, based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO. She has a PhD in atmospheric physics from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and has spent extensive periods of time doing research in the polar regions.

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Brenee King

co-PI of the Sparks for Change Project

Kansas State University

Brenee King is the Project Coordinator for the Kansas Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (KS-LSAMP) program at Kansas State University (K-State). KS-LSAMP is a grant funded program whose goal is to promote the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. During her time as project coordinator she has worked with students, faculty and administrator at K-State along with four community colleges throughout Kansas to help increase the success of undergraduate students in obtaining their baccalaureate degrees.

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Robert Kirsch

co-PI of the Sparks for Change Project

Arizona State University

Robert E. Kirsch is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University. His research focuses on critical theories of leadership, especially in their political and cultural dimensions, to investigate how institutional and organizational arrangements normalize and perpetuate oppressive social relations. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book Critical Leadership Theory: Integrating Transdisciplinary Perspectives, being published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. He also serves on the executive committee of the Caucus for a New Political Science, Green Politics and Theory, and has extensive training in online pedagogy.

This page last updated 8 Dec 2017 - 4:49pm