FUERTE (Field-based Undergraduate Engagement through Research, Teaching and Education): a program to increase diversity and inclusion in conservation and environmental science

Award Period
Award Amount
Agency Name
National Science Foundation
Award Number
PI First Name
PI Last Name
Carol Blanchette
Hillary S Young
Douglas J McCauley
Malaphone Phommasa
Area/s of Research
Ecology and Evolution


Nationally, the diversity of practitioners of climate, conservation and environmental science is low, even compared to other fields in STEM, and other subfields in biological sciences. The focus of this proposal is to address this deficit in inclusion in STEM, and create a program that highlights fieldwork experiences and career building in conservation biology and environmental science for under-represented undergraduates at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), a Research 1 HSI. Hosted on the campus of UCSB and at local UC Nature Reserves, the project entitled FUERTE (Field-based Undergraduate Engagement through Research, Teaching and Education) will create an exciting, multidisciplinary research experience for freshman to senior Latinx undergraduates. The program will integrate several resources to support Latinx students in progressing in conservation science, including mentoring from faculty and diverse role models, CUREs, courses, supportive advising, research experiences and a career-facing internship with a partner agency or NGO (e.g., the U.S. National Park Service or The Nature Conservancy). We propose that UCSB is in a unique position to address these challenges due to its globally recognized programs in environmental and conservation sciences, an unparalleled UC Natural Reserve System, an institutional and faculty-wide commitment to diversity and inclusion, strengths in inquiry-based field science education, and an ethnically diverse student population that includes students that have come from some of the most environmentally vulnerable communities in California and beyond.?Our key guiding hypothesis is that research experiences in the field sciences, along with explicit focus on the service, altruism aspects of these careers will result in positive self- identity as conservation and environmental scientists for Latinx students, resulting in an increase in interest in these areas and success as they transition through their degree program to graduation. In addition, we feel that early intervention and support during the first 2-year transition to college will increase the retention rates of our under-represented students at UCSB. Our Track 1 proposal addresses Priority Area 1 (Critical Transitions), and Priority Area 2 (Innovative Cross-Sector Partnerships).

Intellectual Merit:

The overarching goal of FUERTE is to create a mindful, integrated, capacity building program for our Latinx students that will drive inclusive excellence in environmental, conservation and ecological science. We plan to create a program that is (1) a platform for success to support our undergraduates in their transition from high school to their first year of college and on to graduation, (2) to develop specific skills and guidance about career choices that builds capacity in the U.S. workforce, (3) to use research experiences for our Latinx students as a high-impact practice to support their success is college, and (4) to create a cost-effective program that will remain in place and persist after the award itself (should it be funded) ends. Our hypothesis is that entrance into environmental and field-related careers will be bolstered by an inclusive environment with close contact with faculty mentors and diverse peer mentors, paired with research experiences. In addition, research has indicated that under-represented minority (URM) students often have cultural or prosocial motivations as they enter into their education as they choose a STEM careers, and that URM students may be more inclined to choose careers that help their communities. Thus, in FUERTE, we hope to create this construct: emphasizing that environmental, field- focused careers do indeed help ones community ? and further we will evaluate our approach during the project in order to better achieve our desired goal.

Broader Impacts:

Overall, Latinx students are under-represented in conservation biology and environmental sciences, and we hope to use FUERTE to build for the future, increasing the inclusion of our Latinx students in the next generation of scientists who will tackle some serious societal issues ranging from food security, to biodiversity loss and climate change. The program will engage all URM students via coursework on the first 2 years of their undergraduate degree, supporting students through the transition from high school to college. The FUERTE program proper will train 30 undergraduates over the course of the proposed project. In addition, the project supports the research activity of graduate students via support to them in the summer as mentors during field-based research project. Lastly, FUERTE will host a family event to include the family in a workshop that will address career choice and career advising for the FUERTE fellow and their family.