Bringing Earth Data Science Skills to Underrepresented Communities
CU Boulder-hosted Earth Data Science Corps program boosts diversity in big data fields
Two dozen Earth data science interns from diverse backgrounds wrap up an immersive summer internship this week, guided by experts from CIRES/CU’s Earth Lab. The NSF-funded Earth Data Science Corps (EDSC) program builds capacity to teach and learn in-demand Earth data science skills at Tribal colleges and schools serving historically underrepresented groups—providing new opportunities to fill the big data workforce gap.
The EDSC cohort learned how to use scientific programming and data analytics to explore topics such as quantifying the impacts of flooding on Tribal lands, assessing the effects of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer on urban trees, studying the South Platte river to assess growing season changes due to climate change, and improving access to COVID-19 data for Tribal communities. The 25 undergraduate students will present their projects this Thursday, August 13 from 12-1:30pm MT via Zoom.
“While there is great demand in the job market for technical earth data science skills, there is not equal access to these skills across communities and institutions. Many smaller institutions—which often serve underrepresented groups—suffer from the same gap we see in the workforce, where there is a lack of faculty skills to teach earth data science,” said Leah Wasser, Project PI and Director of Earth Analytics Education at Earth Lab. The EDSC program builds capacity at institutions that want to offer these skills to their students but aren’t quite there yet.
Through faculty and student training, the Earth Lab team hopes to both empower students with skills and awareness of career opportunities that they can pursue and to equip faculty to teach these skills as a part of the core curriculum at each school. “It is our hope that over time this capacity building will expand diversity in the earth data science field while also opening new career options for students who may not even be aware of opportunities in this space,” Wasser said.
The program is backed by an NSF grant that is a part of the “Harnessing the Data Revolution” call, awarded to the Earth Lab education initiative in November 2019. The grant includes $1.2 million dollars in funding over the course of three years to build capacity to teach and learn earth data science skills at institutions serving students historically underrepresented in STEM. The program includes online and in-person workshops for faculty and students, an applied internship style project where students work with mentors to apply skills learned and develop new skills including communication and collaboration, and a full semester-long course that provides a deep dive into core earth data science skills.
All training materials are shared on an open education portal (https://www.earthdatascience.org) which currently has over 140,000 unique global visitors learning EDS skills each month. Partner institutions include United Tribes Technical College, Oglala Lakota College, Front Range Community College, and Metropolitan State University of Denver.
The Earth Data Science Corps will continue in the fall as some students take an online Earth Analytics Bootcamp course to learn earth data science skills that include scientific programming, command line, version control using Git and GitHub and soft skills including communication and collaboration. Students will also participate in career development training opportunities in topics such as resume writing, interviewing, and building a professional online presence.