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New Geosciences Diversity and Multicultural Award gives students a life-changing opportunity

Published: 12/15/2017

By: Candis Birchfield

Tasha Williams was certain she wanted to take a traditional path to medical school by majoring in organismal biology. Now she is not so certain. A recent study abroad trip to Scotland with the Department of Geosciences opened her imagination to a new approach to medical school, as well as new career options.

“The trip taught me to be open to life’s possibilities,” said Williams. “I gained so many experiences and insights I wouldn’t have been able to access through classroom instruction alone. Both academically and personally. The study abroad trip was a life-changing experience that broadened my horizons in the field of geological science. With my newfound interest, I am now considering a career in the geosciences.”

The study abroad program in Scotland, “In the Footsteps of James Hutton,” is directed by John Hawkins, a lecturer in the Department of Geosciences, and sponsored by Auburn University’s Office of International Programs. Before the study abroad trip, Williams felt certain she wanted to be a forensic pathologist.

“I love a challenge and the idea of doing something new every day, so forensic pathology appeals to me,” said Williams. “Also, I am a people person. I love helping people, and in forensic pathology, I would be helping people by giving a voice to someone who no longer has one.

“Because of the trip, I am now considering a non-traditional route to medical school and changing my major to geology. There is a field of study called ‘forensic geology’ which appeals to me and, like forensic pathology, requires strong observational skills. Because of the study abroad trip, I realized that my scientific observational skills are not as heightened as they should be. Majoring in geological sciences would help me strengthen these skills and benefit me in the long run if I choose a career in forensic pathology. I also now know that I really enjoy geology, and there are a lot of great career options in geology. If I change my major to geology, I believe I will have more options when I graduate in terms of seeking an advanced degree in a field that I enjoy.”

Williams’ travel was supported by a new, annual Diversity and Multicultural Award designed to promote increasing the diversity of COSAM’s geosciences programs. The award was created by the Department of Geosciences Advisory Board, and Williams is the first recipient of the award. The Geosciences Advisory Board is a group of 35 alumni and supporters of the department whose primary mission is to serve as an advocacy group to further the goals and aims of the Department of Geosciences. Specifically, they provide advice and financial assistance in an effort to enhance and grow the educational and research capabilities and capacities of the Department of Geosciences.

“In my 30 years at Auburn University, I can recall only a handful of African-American students having matriculated through our program,” said Mark Steltenpohl, chair of the Department of Geosciences. “In fact, only this year did we have the first African-American student ever to enter into our graduate program. I am elated for our department to be able to offer this award. It is gratifying to see students learn and experience the geosciences in the field. This award not only provides a deserving student with an amazing experience, it allows our majors an opportunity to teach and share their experiences with others from non-science backgrounds. I hope this award will excite future students into joining our major, or at least have them encourage others to take a course in the geosciences. I am looking forward to sharing the Scotland field experience with many students in the future.”

COSAM’s Director of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Kimberly Mulligan-Guy, assisted the Department of Geosciences in identifying a deserving student who would benefit from the life-changing opportunity to see world-class geology while experiencing a different culture.

“Minority students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are underrepresented in study abroad programs,” said Mulligan-Guy. “Therefore, our office thought it imperative to offer support for someone to participate in this experience. I believe study abroad is important for students to understand their place, as well as that of STEM, in the world from a global perspective. Additionally, this was the perfect opportunity for increased exposure to the diversity of careers in the geosciences. We hope making international education more accessible, not only through money, but also by having students like Tasha share their experiences, will help change the narrative of who participates in these types of programs.”

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