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  • Geography Diversity Initiatives at California State University, Long Beach:The Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Program
  • Christine M. Rodrigue


Geography enrollments nationally sank to their lowest levels in the last quarter century: approximately 3,000 bachelor degrees were awarded in 1988, a figure that rebounded to the highest levels ever (around 4,000 degress) in the mid-1990s before sagging back, though not quite as low, to approximately 3,500 in 2000 (Hardwick 2001). The trend in the California State University system (CSU) since 1992 is roughly similar to national trends. Geography peaked in the CSU in 1992 at not quite 1,200 bachelor's degrees granted and then slumped to just over 825 by 2002, with a small rebound since then to 910 (Figure 1).

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Figure 1.

CSU undergraduate geography majors 1992–2005.

Geography at California State University, Long Beach, seemed to reflect national and state trends, declining rather precipitously since its peak in the early 1990s until about 2000, with the department down to 60 majors in fall 2000 and only 50 by spring 2001. At that point, Geography began growing substantially and enrollment has reached a new high (Figure 2). [End Page 160]

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Figure 2.

CSULB undergraduate geography majors 1992–2005.

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Figure 3.

CSULB and CSU undergraduate geography majors 1992–2005.

By fall 2005, we had 116 majors, making us the largest undergraduate geography program in the CSU. Not only that, our relative share of geography majors in the CSU system expanded from 7% in fall 2000 to 13% by fall 2005 (Figure 3).

Indeed, Long Beach State accounts for two-thirds of the growth in the geography departments of the entire CSU system from fall 2002 to fall 2005. My paper examines diversification as one of the central engines in our department's growth since the beginning of the decade.

By early 2001, with only 50 majors, Geography began trying to figure out where its few majors were coming from and what we could do to attract more of them. We learned that other cognate programs with which we had undertaken various cooperative projects were having similar problems. We began [End Page 161] to discuss opportunities for working with Geological Sciences, which had seen similar drops in major enrollments since 1992 at the national, state, and campus level (American Geological Institute 2001, CSU Chancellor's Office 2006, CSULB Office of Institutional Research and Assessment 2006). This discussion was later expanded to include geoarchæologists from the Anthropology Department.

The Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Program

One common concern was that these fields tended to attract students quite different from the extremely diverse CSULB student population. The various geoscience programs remained overwhelmingly white on a minority-dominated campus. We realized that we had to increase our attractiveness to students other than the declining white middle class that had traditionally been drawn to geography, geology, and similar fields.

Perhaps our most successful such effort was the Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project of 2001–04 (Ambos et al. 2005, Rodrigue 2005, Wechsler et al. 2005, Whitney et al. 2005). Faculty in physical geography, geology, and archæology at CSULB established summer research programs and then recruited community college faculty and, later, high school faculty to work as partners in these projects. The community college faculty summer salaries were paid through NSF, an arrangement that allowed many of the instructors to dispense with summer teaching. Each of them nominated a student from an underrepresented group who had shown interest and aptitude in one of the three collaborating geosciences.

The students were paid for 2 months of full-time work as research assistants in the field and lab, which gave many of them their first real interaction with relatively "natural" sites all over southern California. These sites included Yosemite, Catalina Island, Charmlee Wilderness Park in Malibu, the South Coast Wilderness in Orange County, and the Palos Verdes Fault off the coast of Los Angeles County.

GDEP Outcomes

GDEP was a total win-win all around. Some 29 students participated, as did 30 CSULB faculty and graduate students and faculty from six local community colleges...


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