Academic provenance: Investigation of pathways that lead students into the geosciences

Heather R Houlton, Purdue University


Pathways that lead students into the geosciences as a college major have not been fully explored in the current literature, despite the recent studies on the “geoscience pipeline model.” Anecdotal evidence suggests low quality geoscience curriculum in K-12 education, lack of visibility of the discipline and lack of knowledge about geoscience careers contribute to low geoscience enrollments at universities. This study investigated the reasons why college students decided to major in the geosciences. Students' interests, experiences, motivations and desired future careers were examined to develop a pathway model. In addition, self-efficacy was used to inform pathway analyses, as it is an influential factor in academic major and career choice. These results and interpretations have strong implications for recruitment and retention in academia and industry. ^ A semi-structured interview protocol was developed, which was informed by John Flanagan's critical incident theory. The responses to this interview were used to identify common experiences that diverse students shared for reasons they became geoscience majors. Researchers used self-efficacy theory by Alfred Bandura to assess students' pathways. Seventeen undergraduate geoscience majors from two U.S. Midwest research universities were sampled for cross-comparison and analysis. Qualitative analyses led to the development of six categorical steps for the geoscience pathway. The six pathway steps are: innate attributes/interest sources, pre-college critical incidents, college critical incidents, current/near future goals, expected career attributes and desired future careers. Although, how students traversed through each step was unique for individuals, similar patterns were identified between different populations in our participants: Natives, Immigrants and Refugees. In addition, critical incidents were found to act on behavior in two different ways: to support and confirm decision-making behavior (supportive critical incidents) or to alter behavior as to change or make an initial decision (behavior altering critical incidents). Comparing and contrasting populations' distinct pathways resulted in valuable discussion for recruitment and retention initiatives for the geoscience.^




Eric M. Riggs, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Geology|Education, Sciences

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