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July 1999

Synergy is driving the fourth year of SOARS

The 1999 on-site SOARS class meets on the mesa. Front row, left to right: Preston Heard, Darnell Powers, Waleska Rivera, Zobeida Ocasio, Rynda Hudman, Ismael Rodriguez. Middle row: Jennifer Zabel, Theresa Johnson, Tom Smith, Kanika Benton, Amanda Szymczak, Shirley Murillo, Michelle Dunn, Sarah Tessendorf, Jennifer Price. Back row: Samuel Ajayi, Jonathan Vigh, Shaan Bliss, Andy Church. On-site protégé not pictured: Rachel Mayfield. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

The SOARS program (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science) is pulling together lessons from four years of hard work as it plans for the future. There are now 31 upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in SOARS, the largest group yet enrolled in the year-round program. Some 100 staff at UCAR/NCAR/UOP are involved with SOARS, most as volunteer mentors working with protégés who spend summers here at UCAR.

SOARS seeks to enhance training in atmospheric science for promising students from traditionally underrepresented groups. The protégés benefit from sustained contact with scientists, not only at UCAR but now at other sites as well, including NASA, the NOAA Office of Global Programs, and U.S. Department of Energy facilities. The primary sponsor of SOARS remains NSF.

UCAR/NCAR/UOP staff volunteering in SOARS get a chance to sharpen their coaching skills, whether it be as research mentors (providing scientific direction and advice), community mentors (orienting protégés to the world beyond the lab), or writing mentors (helping participants tackle the variety of communication challenges scientists face).

What's new for '99?

Returning SOARS mentors may find their roles seem more fluid than usual this year. That's because the program is mixing things up, asking mentors to exchange roles as a way of sparking synergy. For example, community mentors will be providing occasional feedback on the protégés' writing. "We'd like the protégés to be able to present their work to John Doe as well as to a writer or [science] colleagues," explains SOARS director Tom Windham.

SOARS is also working to clarify the role of peer mentors, those returning protégés who help guide the progress of newcomers. Of the 31 SOARS participants, 20 will be in Boulder this summer. Since half of those on site are newcomers, each will have a returning protégé as a roommate. In early June each of the peer mentors received three days of training in mentoring and leadership, an addition from 1998 that proved successful.

The whereabouts of the 11 off-site protégés provide a glimpse of how the program is diversifying:

Is SOARS achieving its goals? Thus far, the retention rate for the program has been an impressive 86 percent. Graduates of the program are landing jobs at places like Lockheed Martin (Janell Cobb Davis), the Environmental Protection Agency (Carl Etsitty), and the White House Council of Economic Advisers (Quindi Franco). And participants still in graduate (or even undergraduate) school are stacking up publications and conference papers. The program has also gained a high profile among similar efforts to diversify science. At the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, held last October in Washington, D.C., six protégés presented papers. "We had the largest single group of presenters at the meeting," notes Tom. •Bob Henson


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
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