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Out In The Field, It’s Not Rocket Science – It’s Rock Science

2 male EOP students from Monroee Community College touch rock wall formation at Letchworth State Park.

The Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY has long worked to provide disadvantaged students with access and support towards a college degree. The types of opportunities available to EOP students changes with the times at SUNY, and what makes this even more exciting is that sometimes the opportunity in the classroom isn’t always found in the classroom.

Twenty-six freshman EOP students enrolled in a geoscience mini-course at Monroe Community College had a recent opportunity to do field research during a day-long trip to the Mount Morris Dam and Letchworth State Park, located about 50 miles southwest of Rochester. The project, funded by the SUNY Impact Foundation, is exposing disadvantaged students in MCC’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Summer Institute to careers in the geosciences. It includes four weeks of classroom instruction and hands-on activities at local natural environments.

Geoscience jobs are expected to see steady growth over the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry expects to see a 14% growth rate, which is faster than average in today’s economy. So exploring new forms of science and technology in new ways is putting many students in a good position for future success. “It feels nice to be out in the field, not in a classroom. It’s a whole new refreshing way to see science. I was actually thinking about becoming a math major so seeing things like this is new to me coming from the city,” said Hugo, an incoming EOP freshman from New York City.

Only a handful of the EOP students had ever visited Letchworth, which is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”  Many were awed by the deep 17-mile long gorge, rockwalls and cascading waterfalls.

Students will be advised to enroll in geoscience courses in the fall and spring semesters. Tutoring and other academic supports will be provided to help them be successful in the courses. The goal of the project is to increase the number of EOP students who enroll in STEM courses, as people of color have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

“I largely want to expose them to what geologists do, why it’s important and how awesome it is,” said Jessica Barone, Professor of Geology. Associate Professor Amanda Colosimo shared a similar view. “One of the joys of working in a community college is watching students transform their lives into things that they never dreamt for themselves.”

Participation in the project will finish in June 2019 with a 9-day field excursion to Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho where students will investigate Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and other iconic natural sites, truly applying in-classroom instructions outside.

Monroe Community College EOP students pose outside in an open area of Letchworth State Park.

Monroe Community College EOP students pose outside in an open area of Letchworth State Park.

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    Written by Taras Kufel

    Taras Kufel is the Manager of Digital Engagement at the State University of New York.

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