Activation of the Multicontext model in a field-based program for traditionally underserved students

Lily S. Pfeifer, Michael J. Soreghan, Kelly K. Feille, Gerilyn S. Soreghan, Gary S. Weissmann, Robert A. Ibarra, Wesley A. Stroud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This paper presents results from our multi-year NSF-IRES program: a four-week, field-based summer program involving the participation and mentorship of U.S. undergraduate geoscience cohorts to develop knowledge and skills in sedimentary geology while immersed in an international research collaboration. Student participants in our program are predominantly first-generation college students, largely from historically underrepresented groups in STEM, and most have a “high context” orientation. Academic culture (especially in STEM) tends to favor the “low-context” approach of scientific inquiry (task-oriented, linear, individuated), but many students bring different cultural values from personal or community-based experiences that tend to be higher-context (process-oriented, systems-thinking, integrated). Herein we discuss how activating a Multicontext model—one that recognizes and includes a broader spectrum of “knowing and doing”—resulted in measurable advances, especially for higher-context students, from the first to second year of the program in terms of self-efficacy in field and analytical competencies, as well as in student engagement. To balance cultural frameworks, specific implementations in the field curriculum included (1) a non-linear, learning cycle-structured orientation prior to fieldwork that clearly introduces research objectives early, and promotes scientific inquiry and peer-to-peer interaction, (2) frequent discussions during fieldwork to place low-context tasks such as making field measurements into a broader context, and (3) a pre-defined mini-project option that allows students to set an individual intent for growth as a scientist in this experience. Leaders of similar programs to NSF IRES that support undergraduate students from underrepresented groups in STEM research might enhance program quality, student engagement, and inclusivity by recognizing and adapting to a broader spectrum of culturally-based learning perspectives. This study represents a small segment within the Multicontext system for redefining and expanding diversity and inclusion—a theory that has broad implications for the entirety of academic culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-95
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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