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GEOPATHS Advances with Creative Research Opportunities
Illinois Ag Connection - 11/23/2020

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's collaborative GEOPATHS-EXTRA program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is engaging scholars in geoscience-related research opportunities.

Applicants are invited for the next cohort of undergraduate students interested in studying local environmental programs and developing solutions. Geoscholars will go on to make a positive difference in the environment through careers in such areas as agriculture, geography, geology, environmental sciences, watershed science, natural hazards and hydrology.

Despite challenges surrounding COVID-19, the current group of Geoscholars has continued to conduct socially distanced fieldwork and participate in modeling and data collection on topics of river flooding, climate change, land cover change, and air and noise pollution. The research areas center on the relationship between humans and their environment.

"We want students to be aware of how geoscience careers can be used to improve communities and help society reduce and/or adapt to natural hazards," said principal investigator (PI) Sharon Locke, PhD, director of the SIUE STEM Center and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. "Many students come to the university with limited exposure to geosciences in high school. This program is intended to raise awareness early, during freshman and sophomore years at SIUE."

Locke is leading the program alongside a team of SIUE researchers, including co-PIs:

- Alan Black, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Geography

- Shunfu Hu, PhD, professor in the Department of Geography

- Adriana Martinez, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Environmental Sciences and Geography

The GEOPATHS program aims to help students develop early confidence in their scientific abilities, and a sense of belonging to the geosciences that will lead them toward degree attainment and career success. The program is particularly focused on elevating underrepresented groups.

"The geosciences are one of the least diverse STEM fields," Locke noted. "The percentage of professionals who are women, racial and ethnic minorities, and/or have a disability is low compared to the general population. We hope that SIUE's GEOPATHS program will increase interest in geosciences among students who may never have thought of themselves as a geoscientist."

While at the Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville, geoscholars Anu Khadka, Alice Yerby, Logan Pelo and Jesus Sanchez use GPS to record the locations of reference points that the drone uses.Summer programming included hosting geoscience professionals, such as a soil scientist who is working to identify soil pollution and support communities to find effective solutions to minimize exposure. Summer experiences also included a tour of the Lock and Dam complex in Alton, and an introduction to experts working to keep the Confluence of the Great Rivers area clean and prosperous.

Geoscholars have also been working with faculty to learn scientific research skills. Some students who participated in faculty-mentored research over the summer, are now developing their own independent project ideas.

"GEOPATHS offers many great opportunities to be involved in projects and activities that enhance your understanding of geosciences," said senior environmental sciences major Jesus Sanchez, of Collinsville. "Through this program, I have helped a graduate student with his thesis by doing research on logjams in Silver Creek. I have also taken a drone pilot class."

Sanchez and fellow Geoscholar Logan Pelo, a senior geography major, are now partnering on their own research project. Pelo emphasized how commitment in this program opens numerous doors with regard to faculty mentorship and resume building experience.

"Our research allows us to apply the skills we learn in the classroom, and gives us valuable experience that will help us find jobs or apply for graduate school," said Pelo, of Staunton. "Working with a faculty mentor helps you explore options within your field of interest."

NSF funding for SIUE's GEOPATHS program runs through June 2022. Applications for the next cohort of Geoscholars are being accepted through February 2021. Students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, as program entry caps at 11 undergraduates.

Those interested in science and engineering careers, and who are two years from graduation, should apply using Academic Works at

For application instructions, contact Eloho Unufe at or Cristal Campocasso at Program questions may be directed to Locke at

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