Geo Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity (GOLD): Sparks for Change

Project: Research project

Project Details


Sparks for Change Supplement Summary
NSF 16-516 GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity: Sparks for Change
Award # 1645453
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 project is an effort to
increase the diversity of the geosciences by improving departmental culture and support of
underrepresented minority (URM) faculty, using small groups as change agents. The novel interventions
developed by Sparks for Change were successful in building the infrastructure and leadership potential
necessary for empowering cultural change towards broadening participation within geosciences
departments at academic institutions. However, the intervention is dependent on participants attending a
workshop developed and run by the Sparks for Change project leadership team. A number of institutions
have expressed interest in using the model in their own institutions, therefore we propose using a
supplement to run a second Sparks for Change workshop. In particular, we would like to catalyze the
efforts of the other GOLD initiatives by inviting participants from those programs to join some of the
previous Sparks for Change participants in serving as Partners and Sponsors in the proposed second
workshop. This would provide them with a structure to use their leadership to drive department level
change. Further, this workshop would encourage participants to take the ideas learned and resources
developed to run their own local Sparks for Change programs. Five participants from the pilot workshop,
including from UC Merced, UCLA, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Kent State University and Kansas State
University have already expressed interest in participating.
Intellectual Merit
The Sparks for Change pilot showed increased leadership capacity in its participants by forming small
groups to empower URM faculty, and their senior faculty partners, to pursue projects to change culture
toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in their departments, as well as support URM career progression.
Many participants have expressed interest in continuing their leadership development by hosting their
own workshops and creating regional support networks. This supplement capitalizes on this interest, as
well as works to integrate the other GOLD projects, to support a follow-on workshop and resources that
serve to train the trainers and expand the impact of the intervention. The pilot showed that small groups
can help overcome institutional resistance to change, and this supplement would help further empower
these change leaders as they host their own interventions at their home institutions.
Broader Impacts
This project is specifically focused on increasing the diversity of the geosciences by tackling departmental
culture toward broadening participation and supporting the career progression of URM faculty. The pilot
demonstrated the value of developing champions of diversity who returned to their institutions, became
more engaged in DEI initiatives and were empowered to change departmental culture to better support
and value diverse faculty and students. The train the trainer approach seeks to accelerate the impacts to
more institutions. By both empowering the participants to return to their institutions, engage other faculty
in action plan initiatives and embrace their own leadership capacity; and by supporting them in running
their own Sparks for Change-based initiatives locally, we anticipate this supplement achieving key
broadening impact goals of supporting and growing a diverse geoscience workforce.


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We have identified a paradox of institutional inertia in the geosciences when it comes to
acting on values of broadening participation (BP). Though a geoscience department may agree
in principle with the goals of BP, the lack of institutional support and recognition in tenure
and promotion pathways for faculty who undertake BP efforts is an obstacle to recruitment
and retention of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty. To overcome this inertia, we propose
an institute focused on providing leadership training to a triad of participants representing
10 different geoscience institutions. These triads will be comprised of an early-career URM
faculty member (the spark), a later-career faculty member within the same geoscience department
(the partner), and a third participant, external to the department, that is a preeminent expert
in BP efforts (the sponsor). The institute will provide participants with the necessary leadership
training specific to each of their professional levels to act as advocates for and leaders
of BP efforts, and support in developing a BP strategy that addresses concerns specific to
their own department.
Intellectual Merit :
The "Sparks for Change" pilot provides a natural laboratory to evaluate the effectiveness
of a targeted small group approach on increasing the diversity of higher ranked faculty within
geosciences departments. We present an effective plan to both implement and evaluate the effectiveness
of this approach through Specific Measurable Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART)
objectives. In addition, the proposal presents the novel idea that a major barrier to effective
BP strategies at the faculty level in the geosciences is not active strategies blocking advancement,
but rather inaction by faculty and administrators due to the diffuse benefits of the status
quo. The pilot provides a pathway for developing "champions for diversity," through a leadership
approach that fosters both individual leadership and supportive partnerships that reinforce
individual and departmental goals. The program will also provide cross-institutional partnerships
that identify, and over time evaluate, successful BP strategies at different types of institutions.
An online resource center will host all training and evaluation resources developed by the
Sparks for Change program, encouraging inter-institutional transfer of successful strategies
for disrupting institutional inertia.
Broader Impacts :
The "Sparks for Change" Institute focuses on improving departmental culture from within, to
improve retention and increase numbers of high-level URM faculty within geoscience departments.
The program will provide both early-career URM faculty and senior faculty members with leadership
skills and a community of practice to promote BP strategies, as well as support for the URM
faculty to successfully navigate tenure pathways. This will ultimately lead to increased URM
participation, both for faculty at levels beyond assistant professor and for URM students,
since the faculty will be more reflective of student populations and the departmental culture
more welcoming. In addition, the program will cultivate an alliance of "diversity champions",
based on a collective impact framework. This alliance will enhance interconnectedness between
institutions toward broadening participation goals and share best practices and resources
for increasing representation within geoscience departments across the nation.
Effective start/end date10/1/169/30/21


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $497,585.00


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