Terra Sigillata

While many folks ’round these parts have been focusing on tweets and posts from the Society for Neuroscience meeting, several of our geology blogger colleagues have been at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA).

Geobloggers rock and we’ve got a great outcrop at ScienceBlogs. They’re usually really gneiss people and they don’t take any schist from anyone. And while their ideas may not always hold water, they are quite often a gas. I really get a recharge out of them and their attitude is uplifting. Put simply, I am an alluvial fan.

I hope that she doesn’t mind the intrusion but Rocky Mountain colleague and professor Kim Hannula at All Of My Faults Are Stress Related has written a post about a session she hosted at the GSA meeting entitled, “Effective recruitment, retention, and promotion of women & minorities in the geosciences.”

Professor Hannula noted the particular discussion about how some people don’t have previous experiences consistent with pursuing a career in geology:

If you read geoblogs, you can probably guess what some of those [motivations] are: great field experiences, enjoyment of the outdoors, and the social experience of being a geologist. But those (and other factors that bring geologists together) can also be negatives. What about kids who didn’t grow up comfortable in the outdoors, for instance? Education researchers talk about problems associated “novelty space” – how unfamiliarity can distract students from learning, and make an experience negative. The authors didn’t mention this, but as I was listening, it struck me that subtle hints that “you don’t belong here” – including a lack of people with a similar background (ethnic, cultural, gender, socioeconomic status) could also create negative emotions associated with field trips or with socializing with geologists. The authors made the point that negative experiences are not restricted to minorities or women – most people do not become geoscientists. As educators, it’s important to turn these barriers into bridges for whatever students we have.

Well, I’d like to recommend that anyone interested in helping expose future geologists from underrepresented groups tot he great outdoors start reading the blog, Outdoor Afro, “Where black people & nature meet.” I started following the author, Rue Mapp, on Twitter (@outdoorafro). Here’s where she’s coming from:

Outdoor Afro is a website community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, boating, gardening, and skiing. Outdoor Afro uses social media to create interest communities, events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the Great Outdoors.

i-e62e49006711072b109f78403f9967c6-Rue Mapp Outdoor Afro.jpg

During her childhood, Rue Mapp split her time between urban Oakland, California and her families’ working ranch in the Northern woodlands, where she cultivated a passion for natural spaces, farming, and learned how to hunt and fish. As a youth, her participation in the Girl Scouts and Outward Bound broadened her outdoor experiences, such as camping, mountaineering, rock climbing, and road bicycling. But Rue was troubled by the consistently low numbers of African Americans participating in these activities. So Rue became committed to using the internet as an important and practical tool to connect with people of color who shared her outdoor interests. Outdoor Afro emerged from that commitment.

Rue has a B.A. in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied the artistic representation of the American forests. She is also a successful entrepreneur whose game and hobby store start-up (It’s Your Move) remains an important part of the Oakland community. Rue currently lives in Albany, California with her children.

Typical posts at Outdoor Afro have included a video about the only African American park ranger at Yosemite, a post about the International Association of Black Bass Anglers, and reports from Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors Conference in Atlanta. I’ve especially got to give Rue some additional props for the shoutout to our local music heroes, The Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Rue also keeps a growing page of outdoor resources and Outdoor Afro has an online community where you can network with other likeminded people not just in California but around the world.

The timing of Kim’s post and my Twitter exchanges with Rue are particularly timely in that we are soon to launch registration for the ScienceOnline2010 conference to be held in Research Triangle Park, NC, Jun 15-17, 2009. Yours truly will be hosting the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Session, this year entitled, “Engaging underrepresented groups in online science media.” To do so, you must first engage young minority students online by making sure they have computer access and have the opportunities and experiences that cultivate interest in sciences such as geology. We’ll be sure to be talking about Rue Mapp and Outdoor Afro when y’all join us in January.

In the meantime, go check out Outdoor Afro.


  1. #1 Rue
    October 26, 2009

    Wow Abel! What a terrific article! So glad you have enjoyed the site…the best is yet to come!

    Take Care,

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