Twenty-six high school students from the North Slope recently completed the third year of UAF’s GeoForce program. The four-year summer program gets students into the field to learn about geology hands-on. They’ve seen glaciers in Alaska, visited the Grand Canyon, and explored volcanoes in the northwest.
Program Coordinator Sarah Fowell says GeoForce aims to motivate the students to study science. “We think one of the reasons that rural students are under represented in science and math majors is perhaps that they don’t see the relevance to their lives and their communities. And, for example, they don’t see what a geoscientist would do for a living.”
The program is mostly funded by oil and gas companies that want to recruit local workers but need them to understand geology. To participate, the students have to maintain a B-average in science and math classes. Fowell says this helps keep them on track for graduation.
Participant Lolo Drigs from Wainwright says this year’s program, with visits to Mount St. Helens and Crater Lake, inspired her interest in the environment. “It got me interested in learning more about how everything forms and why they are there and how we can prevent certain disasters.”
Cynthia Kim from Barrow says at first she didn’t care about science, until she met her 8th grade teacher. “And she changed my whole perspective on science. And she opened my eyes to what science really encompasses. And it’s really about the whole world. Everything is pretty much science.”
With that enthusiasm, Kim was willing to face GeoForce challenges, like drawing a geological map of an area. She says it was hard. “’Cause it was kind of like this 2-D thing where you had to look at a piece of paper and think that it was 3-D. You had to look at it from a perspective that it was obviously not. So you had to put yourself onto the map and figure out where you are. That was pretty confusing.”
She says she still too young to know for sure, but she thinks she might want to become a geologist.
The program ends for this group of students next summer.