AGU Diversity Plan

The AGU Diversity Plan was developed by the Committee on Education and Human Resources, with input from its Subcommittee on Diversity. The plan was approved by CEHR in May 2002.


The present Earth and space scientific community does not reflect the true diversity of the people that inhabit our planet. This population disparity is especially seen within the US scientific community. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities are under-represented as scientists when compared with their proportions within society. Thus, valuable human resources, that can bring insights, perspectives, and talents into our programs, are not being given the opportunity to add to the knowledge base of science.

The increasingly global relevance of the Earth and space scientific enterprise compels us to work to improve diversity within the field. Moreover, the 21st century changes in US demographics make the issue of increasing diversity urgent. Failure to improve diversity could have important ramifications for the economic, social, and scientific health of our fields.

Historically, AGU has aggressively worked to improve access of scientists within developing countries to modern scientific opportunities. Now, AGU is taking a leadership role in addressing diversity within the Earth and space sciences. Specifically, AGU Council has identified improving diversity of its membership as an explicit goal (EHR-4) in the 2002–2004 AGU Plan. In response to this goal, the Committee on Education and Human Resources (CEHR) established in 2001 a Subcommittee on Diversity (DSC), whose goals are to:

  • Educate AGU and its membership on issues related to diversity, and
  • Make specific recommendations to AGU regarding its role on this issue and steps that it, as a scientific society, can take to improve the diversity of professionals choosing the Earth and space sciences as a career.

The following AGU Diversity Plan was developed by the DSC and approved by CEHR during a series of meetings held in late 2001-early 2002 (Appendix B). This report summarizes the motivation for and rationale behind an AGU diversity strategy and discusses some of the issues and obstacles that AGU must confront in order to address this problem. This document both lays out the framework for a long-term diversity strategy for AGU, by defining specific goals and objectives, and identifies specific programs that can be used to initiate implementation of this plan.

Statement of the Issue

The Earth and space sciences are in danger of losing a significant portion of the workforce necessary to ensure its future. Evidence for this problem includes:

  • The aging population of scientific professionals nearing retirement comprises the largest proportion of the present Earth and space scientists.
  • A thirteen percent decline in graduate enrollment occurred within the Earth and space sciences during the 1990’s (NSF, 2001, a, b).
  • The numbers of white males, the largest demographic community within the Earth and space sciences, receiving bachelors degrees in the geosciences have decreased by nearly 80% over the past quarter century (AGI, 2001). Thus, the traditional base of future Earth and space scientists in the US is shrinking. And,
  • Over the last two decades, the numbers of Earth and space science academic programs, particularly at post-secondary levels, and total academic science majors in the United States have declined.

The 21st century demographics of the US population in grades K–12, i.e., the future scientists of America, are shifting rapidly. Minority populations have had the greatest proportional increase within the United States during the decade of the 1990’s. Presently, racial and ethnic minorities, women, and persons with disabilities are not replacing the potential workforce shortfall. This is despite the fact that the percentage of ethnic and racial minorities in the resident US population is ~40% of the future talent pool, i.e. elementary school students (US Census Bureau, 2000). Students from minority groups are not choosing geoscience careers for a variety of reasons, not all of which are fully understood. AGU has a leadership role to play in addressing this problem. It is essential that new strategies for educating, recruiting, and retaining geoscientists from currently under-represented populations be developed in order to fill this future workforce shortfall. The potential ramifications of this situation — for individual investigators seeking students to fill classes or work in their research programs, for institutions looking to replace faculty and researchers, for the larger community looking to the public for continued research funding, and for the future US membership of AGU — could be crippling. Therefore, the challenge for AGU is to identify, promote, and implement effective strategies that increase diversity within the Earth and space sciences.



AGU is a worldwide scientific community that advances, through unselfish cooperation in research, the understanding of Earth and space for the benefit of humanity (AGU Plan 2004). AGU exists to advance the geophysical sciences by catalyzing and supporting the efforts of individual scientists within and outside the membership. We organize and disseminate information for the scientific community. As a learned society we have an obligation to serve the public good; we meet this obligation by fostering quality in the geophysical sciences and bringing the results of research to the public. By working to ensure diversity in the Earth and space sciences, AGU will be improving the workforce in and continued productivity and efficiency of science, while further expanding the public audience with whom we share our research product.

Science is improved through diversity. Research demonstrates that cooperative groups composed of diverse populations are able to perform more effectively in resolving and understanding issues from different perspectives (Johnson and Johnson, 1998; Butler and Kirwan, 2002). Yet, the Earth and space sciences community has done a poor job of tapping into the available human resource pool. As outlined in the AGU Plan for 2002–2004, this unexamined resource exists throughout both the developed and developing areas of the globe. AGU is concerned that, by not capitalizing on this large and essentially untapped supply of young people, we are not benefiting from the important insights they can offer. By developing incentives that foster inclusiveness, AGU will help to ensure that our scientific effort has the potential to reach the highest level of quality that is achievable.

Broad efforts to attract and retain new scientists will benefit all as more diverse populations become fascinated with science and its potential for serving humanity. Of greater impact to individual investigators, a healthy influx of young, talented students interested in the Earth and space sciences will ensure the vitality of their undergraduate and graduate courses and provide the necessary workforce for the research enterprise. It is also worth noting that a public that understands and appreciates the importance of the Earth and space sciences will be more likely to continue financial support of research in these disciplines, as well as utilize the results of that research more wisely in making policy decisions that affect all of our futures. AGU recognizes that the numerous benefits produced by exposing underrepresented populations to Earth and space science concepts will help us to fulfill the multiple missions of our organization.

Attracting persons under-represented in the Earth and space sciences will require work and collaborations at all levels. K-16+ academic institutions, school boards, industry, political and other social organizations, and scientific, mathematics, and engineering societies must be included in this endeavor. It is particularly essential that AGU coordinate its efforts with those of the other scientific societies, in order to minimize duplication, avoid conflicting strategies, and leverage the limited resources available to address this problem. Furthermore, all of the efforts these organizations make must be culturally sensitive to the populations that we wish to attract (Barstow et al., 2002).

Demographic Changes in the United States

Rapid demographic changes in the resident US population will have a dramatic impact on the scientific workforce (United States Census Bureau, 2001a, b; NSF Workforce Doc, 2000). As seen in Figure 1, the proportion of non-white, college-aged students is expected to increase to nearly 40% of the total population by the year 2010. Although the African American and Native American groups will increase little, the number of Asian Americans, a population significantly underrepresented in the Earth and space sciences, is projected to experience the most rapid growth rate in the United States for the next 20+ years, especially in the western states. By the year 2025, more that 50% of the populations in New Mexico, Texas and California will be comprised of racial and ethnic minority groups. In particular, the Hispanic populations of those states are presently the majority or will be the majority ethnic group by 2025. These changes in demographics will especially be seen in academic institutions. The Chronicle of Higher Education (2001), for example, notes that > 50% of the student population in California colleges and universities are presently comprised of racial and ethnic minorities.

The Earth and space science workforce lags behind all other sciences in engaging and retaining women and minorities, amplifying the impact of these demographic changes on our community. Of all scientific fields of study pursued by African Americans and Hispanics, the geosciences rank last (R. Czujko, pers. comm., 2002; note this table will be added when the report is released). Figure 2 shows the number of degrees granted in the geosciences between the period 1980 to 2000, separated by gender and ethnicity (AGI, 2001). Although the proportion of women undergraduate students within the Earth and space sciences has increased (due to decline in the number of male students), the overall numbers of women entering the field has not, particularly relative to their proportion in the US population (51%). Further, the proportion of women receiving post-graduate degrees in these fields has decreased at all levels. This decline further occurs at the professional level (AGI, 2001). Moreover, the proportion of all minority groups studying the Earth and space sciences, nationwide, never approached 10% of the overall population. Clearly, recruitment and retention are critical to future success in improving diversity.

Cultural Factors

In order to provide successful leadership at this critical juncture, AGU must understand the factors that shape this issue, including demographic trends, community and cultural issues, and weaknesses in current education and outreach programs that have caused limited participation of diverse groups within the Earth and space sciences. We currently have an insufficient understanding of the barriers to participation for minorities and women in these fields. Of the numerous factors that are known to influence this situation, many relate to issues of lifestyle, cultural expectations, and differences in educational pathways. Although there is some overlap, the obstacles for women and cultural/ethnic minorities differ. For women, retention is as important an issue as recruitment, whereas for other minorities, exposure to and recruitment into these fields is the primary hurdle to overcome at this stage. If the number of participating minorities were to increase, retention issues could become more apparent, and anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant proportion of minorities who begin their post-secondary lives in geoscience leave early in their careers (B. Cuker, pers. comm.., 2002). Physical constraints imposed on scientists with disabilities probably define an additional category of obstacles, but without representation of this segment of the population on the DSC, it is difficult to assess these concerns. It is imperative that AGU fully gauge and understand the nature of these cultural disincentives if we are to change diversity within the Earth and space sciences. The DSC recognizes the following specific issues are likely to be important factors that will need to be addressed:

  • The distinct roles that women and men play in differing cultures.
  • Special needs of persons with disabilities within the sciences.
  • General feelings of disconnection within these populations and their communities towards science and mathematics in general.
  • Presentation of the Earth and space sciences in culturally relevant contexts.
  • The role of family and community structure in encouraging and defining training and career obligations.
  • The racial and ethnic identities of the targeted audience.

Educational pathways are a particularly relevant consideration when considering effective methods for recruiting more cultural/ethnic minorities into the geosciences. Demographic analyses reveal that minority populations are opting to enroll into two-year colleges and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) over majority four-year universities. Forty-six percent of African Americans, 55% of Hispanics, 46% of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 55% of Native American undergraduate students are presently enrolled in two-year colleges (Phillippe, 2000). In addition, the majority of African American and Hispanic scientists and engineers graduated from MSI (Czujko, 2002a; 2002b [in preparation]). Yet, the number of geoscience programs or faculty with training in the Earth and space sciences (or related fields) in these types of academic institutions is extremely small, thereby greatly limiting the access of these students to these fields. Thus, effective collaboration with two-year colleges and MSIs will be critical in improving diversity in the Earth and space sciences.

Opportunities for Change

The 21st century changes in demographics provide an opportunity for professionals in Earth and space science fields to attract persons traditionally underrepresented in science. The executive and legislative branches of the Federal government have mandated advancing diversity and educational opportunities for underrepresented populations. As a result, Federal agencies are now instituting diversity initiatives. Further, Federal funding agencies now recognize diversity as a necessary component in achieving their societal goals, and utilize these criteria for award consideration. Corporations are also eager to engage in and foster efforts to promote diversity in the scientific workforce, both in response to obligations imposed by these federal policy changes and in recognition of the demand for a workforce that can function effectively in an increasingly global business climate, which is intrinsically diverse.

The Role of AGU

Recruitment and retention of persons under-represented in Earth and space sciences is viewed as being paramount to the future of AGU as an organization, and Earth and space sciences as a field of study. As a global community of over 40,000 Earth and space scientists, many of whom actively volunteer in support of its education and outreach programs, AGU is well positioned to play a major leadership role in improving diversity within the geosciences. Although AGU has initiated diversity-oriented education and outreach activities in the past — most notable is the Minority Participation Program, now administered by AGI — it has been approximately 20 years since AGU has taken the lead on issues related to diversity. Renewed efforts to promote diversity undertaken by AGU must be fully integrated with the overall goals of the Union, as defined in the current AGU Plan and the AGU Plan for 2004–2006, if real impact is to be achieved. In assessing the proper role for AGU, CEHR has outlined the unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that the Union faces in trying to achieve its goals regarding diversity. Further, AGU must determine its most effective course of action within the context of the resources that are presently and/or potentially available.

Overview of Recommendations

To accomplish the goals established by the CEHR, it is recommended that AGU:

  • Educate the membership on diversity issues and their impact on the field, and continue to support educational reform efforts,
  • Engage the full diversity of scientists in Union activities,
  • Outreach to professional scientists, educational organizations, and the public at-large about the excitement of the geosciences, the diversity of scientists who are AGU members and the diversity of fields studied by Earth and space scientists,
  • Facilitate collaborations between research institutions, K-16 educational organizations, formal and informal education providers, Earth and space science industries, media, and the membership of AGU, and
  • Partner and collaborate with other professional scientific, mathematical, and engineering societies, formal and informal educational organizations, public media outlets, and industry to breakdown cultural barriers to diversity.

These efforts must be accomplished within the short-term and long-term goals of the AGU. Furthermore, they must be done in such a manner that the unique mission and identity of the AGU are honored and preserved.

Long-Term Goals

This overarching vision for improving diversity in the Earth and space sciences will require a long time commitment by AGU and the Earth and space sciences communities. As AGU moves into the future to realize this vision, it should work toward these four goals:

Educate and involve the AGU membership in diversity issues.

Evolving ethno-cultural demographics in the student talent pool and the significant turnover anticipated for the existing professional corps will soon have profound impacts on the future face of AGU and the ability of Union members to conduct their research and educational activities. Many AGU members are unaware of these projected demographic challenges, and some are ill-equipped to act effectively on such knowledge.

Enhance and foster the participation of scientists, Earth and space science educators, and “pre-service scientists” from under-represented groups in AGU activities.

Through committee and leadership appointments, honors and awards, AGU can acknowledge the pioneering efforts of the existing underrepresented scientific population, and encourage their leadership in advancing the visibility and success of underrepresented scientists. The meetings, publications and education and outreach programs sponsored by AGU offer excellent tools for exposing teachers and science students from underrepresented communities to knowledge about the Earth and space sciences and their effect on daily life. Providing opportunities for students and faculty from Minority Serving Institutions (e.g., HBCUs, Tribal Colleges) and two-year colleges to easily participate in AGU programs will be an important catalyst in achieving this goal.

Increase the visibility of the Earth and space sciences and foster awareness of career opportunities in these fields for under-represented populations.

Many minority students receive little exposure to the Earth and space sciences in K-12 or undergraduate curricula and have few opportunities to participate in research in these fields as college students. Most Minority Serving Institutions do not have the appropriate departments or expertise on the faculty, or do not offer majors in the relevant subjects. Many minority students get their science credits while enrolled at 2-year colleges, few of which only offer Associates degrees in fields related to geoscience. Lack of familiarity with these subjects hampers efforts to recruit minority students into graduate studies or careers in these fields. As career choices in many minority cultures are often influenced by considerations such as parental endorsement, new marketing tactics are required to reach these communities.

Promote changes in the academic culture that remove barriers and disincentives for increasing diversity in the student and faculty populations and that reward member-faculty wishing to pursue these goals.

The failure to diversify the faculties and student populations in most Earth and space science departments suggests that there are prohibitive barriers, inappropriate pedagogical practices, or insensitive policies that make the academic environment unattractive to underrepresented groups. Recent efforts to increase the diversity of faculty and students in academic institutions engaged in Earth and space science research and education have not been very successful, indicating that new strategies are required. AGU can benefit from general science education reform efforts (particularly in the physics and mathematics communities) that build on the new recognition that different learning styles, pedagogical methods and cultural paradigms need to be considered. AGU is at the heart of a planet-wide network of societies and individuals in the geophysical sciences. Through this network, and in partnership with other geophysical scientific societies, AGU can help to identify these barriers and disincentives and develop new strategies for mitigating their effects.

Near-Term Objectives

These objectives provide further guidance for Union activities that address the long-term goals of the diversity plan. Near-term refers to programs that will either be accomplished, or for which significant progress will have been made, by 30 June 2004.

Goal: Educate and involve the AGU membership in diversity issues.

  • Identify diversity as a major, Union-wide priority and provide support for activities focused on diversity, as it has impact on the membership and continued success of AGU.
  • Use Eos and (when available) as regular forums for discussing diversity-related themes.
  • Establish on-going special venues at AGU meetings for discussing diversity issues, demographic changes, and best practices for increasing diversity in the Earth and space sciences.
  • Develop policies that facilitate participation of grade 10-16+ students at AGU meetings.
  • Initiate efforts to identify and discuss with the international membership common areas of concern regarding diversity.
  • Develop, publish and advocate a position statement related to diversity.
  • Create pilot programs for effective outreach to minority populations that utilize AGU members as a resource.
  • Work with Sections to develop diverse membership on their Executive Committees and throughout their programs.
  • Encourage Section members to participate in union efforts to assess diversity within the Union.
  • Collaborate with Union-wide committees to develop and promote AGU’s diversity programs.

Goal: Enhance and foster the participation of scientists, Earth and space science educators, and “pre-service scientists” from under-represented groups in AGU activities.

  • Establish on-going special venues at AGU meetings for discussing diversity issues.
  • Develop policies that facilitate participation of grade 10–16+ students at AGU meetings.
  • Develop recognition and reward mechanisms that target persons who have influenced diversity in the Earth and space sciences or have played an important mentoring role for students and/or scientists from underrepresented groups.
  • Aggressively recruit Earth and space science professionals and students from underrepresented groups to join and participate in AGU.
  • Work proactively via the Sections, Focus Groups, and other AGU committees to better reflect the diversity of the membership and general population in developing nominations for medals, awards, and Fellows.
  • Assess the membership’s knowledge of diversity issues within Earth and space sciences and its willingness to participate in programs to increase diversity within these fields.

Goal: Increase the visibility of the Earth and space sciences and foster awareness of career opportunities in these fields for under-represented populations.

  • Develop a strategic public information and marketing plan to spotlight and enhance diversity in the Earth and space sciences.
  • Develop strategies for using formal and informal education channels to increase the exposure of underrepresented groups to Earth and space sciences concepts and their relevance.
  • Initiate the development of constructive partnerships between Earth and space science research institutions, Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI), two-year colleges, and MSI education foundations that service colleges and universities.
  • Develop prototype, culturally-tailored career materials (print and web-based) and other incentives that encourage students from underrepresented populations to consider careers in the Earth and space sciences, and disseminate them broadly through channels that effectively reach these communities.

Goal: Promote changes in the academic culture that remove barriers and disincentives for increasing diversity in the student and faculty populations and that reward member-faculty wishing to pursue these goals.

  • Develop recognition and reward mechanisms that target persons who have influenced diversity in the Earth and space sciences or have played an important mentoring role for students and/or scientists from underrepresented groups.
  • Work proactively via the Sections, Focus Groups, and other AGU committees to better reflect the diversity of the membership and general population in developing nominations for medals, awards, and Fellows.
  • Begin the process of identifying barriers for underrepresented groups that are intrinsic in the academic culture and strategies for how AGU might effect changes.

Objectives that serve all four goals.

  • Utilize the planning and budget processes of the Union to include key diversity programs in the 2004–2006 AGU Plan and allocate sufficient resources to support diversity-oriented programs identified for the 2002–2004 timeframe.
  • Take a leadership role in fostering coordination between the relevant scientific organizations on diversity issues.
  • Establish protocols for assessing the effectiveness of AGU’s diversity programs.
  • Aggressively pursue corporate and foundation funding to enhance support for AGU’s highest priority diversity programs that require additional resources.
  • Identify and utilize programs within the funding agencies that can be sources of financial support for implementation of AGU’s diversity programs.
  • Enable web materials that are accessible to minorities and reflect their technology capabilities and language.
  • Provide leadership in supporting Union-wide efforts to implement the AGU Diversity Plan.


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Czujko, R., 2002a (in preparation), “African Americans in Physics and Geosciences”, American Institute of Physics

Czujko, R., 2002b (in preparation) “Hispanics in Physics and Geosciences”, American Institute of Physics

Directorate of Geosciences/National Science Foundation (NSF/GEO), 2000, Strategy for Developing a Program for Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (NSF 01–53)

Johnson, D.W., and R.T. Johnson, 1998, “Values, the Classroom and Cultural Diversity”, in Leicester, M. Modgill, C. Modgill, editors, Cooperative Learning, Values and Culturally Plural Classrooms, London: Cassell PLC., p. 1–17.

National Science Foundation, 2001a, Data Brief: “Growth Continued in Graduate Enrollment in Science and Engineering Fields”, NSF 01–312

National Science Foundation, 2001b, “Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering: Fall 1999”, NSF 01–315

Phillippe, K, 2000, “National Profile of Community Colleges: Trends and Statistics, Third Edition (2000) Community College Press, American Association of Community Colleges

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United States Census Bureau, 2001, “Population Projections: States, 1995–2025”, 6 p.

United States Census Bureau, 2001b, “Population Profiles of the United States: America at the Close of the 20th Century”, 89 p.

Subcommittee on Diversity

Claudia Alexander (Co-Chair) – Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Frank Hall (Chair) – University of New Orleans
Raymond Hall – Environmental Protection Agency
Michael Howell – University of South Florida
Gregory Jenkins – Pennsylvania State University
Roberta Johnson – University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Rosaly Lopes – Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Dina Lopez – Ohio University
Eric Riggs – San Diego State University
Judith Vergun – Oregon State University