Teaching Non-Majors to Communicate the Importance of Geoscience for Policy Making through Service-Learning and Civic Engagement

PDF versionPDF version

Strengthening the role of geosciences in policymaking is challenging anticipatory work. Geoscientists advance science-based decision-making by communicating the results, implications and value of research directly to policymakers (e.g. participating in Congressional Visit Days). However, improving geoscience policy also requires the voices of non-geoscientists. Teaching non-STEM majors the value of science-based policymaking contributes to science literacy overall, and it also helps generate potential advocates for the geosciences at the local, state and federal level.

Bentley University is one of only a few U.S. universities with a primary focus on business education. While 95% of Bentley undergraduates major in business fields, the curriculum is integrated with a liberal studies core and experiential opportunities through a nationally recognized service-learning center. In the course, Science in Environmental Policy, a subset of students applies to earn an additional course credit by performing primary research for a non-profit organization in the Washington, D.C area involved in geoscience policy. At the end of the semester, students travel to Capitol Hill to present their work and make policy recommendations to lawmakers.

In spring 2015, a group of seven undergraduates and a graduate student project manager consulted for the Critical Issues Program of the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) in Alexandria, VA. The group was tasked with providing a better understanding of the program’s target audience in order to improve outreach and content delivery via the program website. In the process, the students had to make academic connections between geoscience research and policymaking, major themes in the course.

In April, after presenting their report to AGI, the students visited congressional offices to present salient points from their research, and make independent policy recommendations. The House of Representatives was debating reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 1806) at the time, and specifically, a version that slashed federal funding for geoscience research. The students formulated a compelling business case for investing in geoscience research and convinced Rep. Katherine Clark (MA-5) to use that argument during debate on the House floor.

  • David Szymanski
  • Maeve Boland*
  • Leila Gonzales*
  • Charlotte Wood*
  • Geological Society of America Annual Meeting 2015