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Center for Engagement and Community Development

Dr. Debra Bolton discusses Engagement Incentive Grant project, Geospatial Analysis/STEM, Females of Color

By Gabrielle Meeds

The Creating Pathways to STEM for Females of Color “Girl Power Geospatial Thinking and Other STEM” project introduces girls and boys of Garden City High School to four introductory classes that explore the opportunities in geospatial analysis, specifically, Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The class themes in geography offer a variety of topics for the students to consider in future studies and potential career paths. Although there hasn’t been a large turn-out of boys in these classes, they are welcome to sign-up and participate alongside the girls.

Dr. Debra Bolton, director of intercultural learning and academic success, started this project with hopes of getting girls, specifically girls of color, to understand the significant role that geospatial thinking and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) topics play in their everyday lives. In addition, increase the confidence and desire among these girls to seek out STEM career paths they were not aware of or interested in beforehand. As part of the class, students are asked to build a map of their bedroom or any room they are most familiar with. This allows the students to think more spatially, creatively and critically about their environments while introducing them to mapping. “These classes help them think spatially and relate back to their own lives. Pokémon Go, navigation apps on cellphones and GPS are all everyday tools used that relate to geospatial thinking. These courses take information and help students understand it in terms of direction, movement and mapping. It takes personal experiences and correlates it in ways they can understand,” said Dr. Bolton.

As part of this project, Dr. Bolton emphasized the joy of seeing the confidence and growth in these students from start to finish. Many students taking the introductory classes have little understanding of geospatial thinking and other STEM subjects. They learn of opportunities available to them in STEM fields and geospatial analysis is just one. However, Dr. Bolton explained, “Geospatial analysis is huge in terms of employment and what is not huge is the number of women-of-color in it.” That said, offering these classes to a diverse, young group will help them gain awareness of the relevance of geospatial thinking and other STEM topics. If all goes well, the students come to realize that STEM careers are for anyone who wants to pursue them.

Dr. Bolton reported that two students from the previous cohort returned and eight previous students reported that they are now interested in geography as a career path. Through help with Groundwater Management District #3, instructors from Garden City Schools, the Kansas Geographic Alliance and the National Geographic Society, the project has been able to move forward with extra materials and additional help for the students attending these classes. “I am very grateful for this funding from the Center for Engagement and Community Development. This allowed us to go forward with a second cohort and that is a big accomplishment.”

Published 5/15/2019