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SEP success will help other students SOAR

Next year, a new five-year program funded by NSF and UCAR takes to the air from the SEP (Summer Employment Program) runway. UCAR's Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) will create a direct pipeline to bring ethnically diverse students into careers in the atmospheric and related sciences. Also participating in the program are a number of UCAR member and affiliate universities and historically black colleges.

The program was designed to help address a situation that its two principal investigators, UCAR's Richard Anthes and Edna Comedy, describe as "bleak": the low representation of minorities in the atmospheric sciences, especially at the Ph.D. level. A recent survey of the atmospheric sciences community by the American Meteorological Society found that out of 5,400 respondents only 0.7% were black, 1.4% were Hispanic, and 0.3% were Native American.

SOARS builds on what has been learned from the 15-year SEP (see accompanying article). SEP has been very successful; follow-up surveys and interviews of the 142 women and minorities who have completed it show most are proceeding with, or have completed, their atmospheric sciences education, and many credit the program with their decision to do so. But though SEP clearly gives these students a solid boost, Anthes and Comedy believe that more is needed in the way of seeing them through to careers in the atmospheric sciences. Hence SOARS.

SOARS has two primary goals: to bring a significant number of ethnically diverse students into the atmospheric and related sciences at the highest professional levels and to strengthen undergraduate and graduate research programs of all colleges and universities connected with it. It endeavors to provide not only academic education and training, but personal enrichment and mentoring as well.

SOARS will continue the SEP philosophy of providing real-world working experience under the guidance of scientific or technical mentors. It is structured to allow students maximum flexibility to explore different aspects of the atmospheric sciences and possibilities for graduate school. The program will support up to a dozen students in each of its five years. Each student's first summer (usually after the sophomore year) will be much like SEP. Students will spend ten weeks at UCAR, working on selected research projects at NCAR or UOP under the guidance of scientific or technical mentors. Also like SEP, they will take a course in scientific and technical writing to prepare them for writing a paper and making an oral presentation on their research project, and will attend seminars to learn about education and career options in the atmospheric and related sciences.

After their first summer, students may apply to continue through the rest of the program by submitting a proposal on the research they wish to conduct and naming a choice of scientific or technical mentor. Continuing students will spend subsequent summers at participating universities or other research laboratories collaborating with mentors on publishable papers and/or conference presentations. During the school year SOARS students will maintain close ties with their UCAR mentors and may receive academic credit for SOARS activities or expand their initial projects into an honors project. Before completing their senior year they are encouraged to apply to a graduate program at one of the participating universities. Those accepted will receive full scholarships.

With current funding, the goal is for at least 32 SOARS participants to graduate with masters or doctoral degrees-- more than doubling the present number of Ph.D. scientists in the atmospheric sciences from underrepresented minority groups. However, Comedy and Anthes are actively pursuing additional funding to expand the program and the number of students it can help. "We believe in the program," says Comedy, "and we hope to be able to extend it beyond five years and increase the number of students to 18 per year." Six universities have already committed to paticipating in SOARS, says Comedy, and a larger number have expressed serious interest.

The first students are already being recruited; they begin their work in Boulder in June 1996. For more information, contact Comedy (303-497-8705 or comedy@ucar.edu) or Anthes (303-497-1652 or anthes@ucar.edu).

Survey says...Precollege education activities in the community: Good signs, and room for improvement


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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
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Last revised: Tue Apr 4 09:06:54 MDT 2000