UMD Research Team Awarded New NSF Grant for the PEARLS Program to Drive Diversity in Geosciences

Program will target women, underserved communities, and underrepresented minorities to encourage them to pursue geoscience experiences and education

The three lead principal investigators exemplify the diversity in geoscience that this program strives to promote. From left: Akua Asa-Awuku, chemical engineering; Candice Duncan, environmental science and chemistry; Ebony Terrell-Shockley, education.

October 27, 2020 Samantha Watters and Katie Holland Doyle

A University of Maryland (UMD) research team received a $385K award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their study entitled, “GP-GO: Providing Early Access to Research & Learning in geoscienceS (PEARLS)."

Given that geoscience is one of the least diverse disciplines in STEM, the goal of the team is to engage students from non-traditional geoscience fields, such as chemical engineering, and steer them into geoscience research and field work. The team is led by three principal investigators across UMD, including Akua Asa-Awuku, chemical engineering professor with the A. James Clark School of Engineering, Candice Duncan, lecturer with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Ebony Terrell Shockley, a clinical professor with the College of Education. 

The PEARLS program (Provide Educational Access to Research & Learning in geoscienceS) targets women, underserved populations, and underrepresented minorities and encourages them to access geoscience disciplines via extracurricular experiences and training. 

This project will create catalytic experiences for students to engage in interdisciplinary geoscience work,” says Asa-Awuku. According to her, the learning design is composed of three critical objectives: 1) a mentorship program that will culminate in nationally recognized certification and/or apprenticeship, 2) design and test bridge programs to help post-undergraduate students from non-geoscience fields transition into geoscience graduate programs, and 3) foster collaborations between academia and the local private sector, or state/local government, to facilitate transitions between academic programs and the geoscience workforce.

“With the gradual loss of geoscientists in the workforce, it is critical for faculty and researchers to find ways to increase awareness and interest in geoscience careers,” says Duncan. “We hope this program will encourage students with interest in geosciences to help visualize where a geoscience degree can place them in the future, and then encourage them to choose these fields for graduate school or future professions.”

Terrell Shockley adds, "State departments of education and specific professional associations continuously deem science as a critical shortage area. The models designed for our PEARLS project create novel experiences and transformative pathways that increase the number of underrepresented groups into geosciences. Students will receive the knowledge, professional development, and mentoring to launch them into advanced programs, research, or the teaching careers within secondary or higher education arenas."

PEARLS program flowchart
PEARLS Program Model

"We are looking for excited, energetic students interested in the environment, but are still looking for ways to connect their educational aspirations with their interest in the environment,” says Asa-Awuku. “In the course for this program, we plan to talk about different ways students can use their current fields to connect their major to geosciences, and then how to translate that to a job in academics, industry, NGOs, and policy work."

The experiences provided by the program will help students matriculate more successfully into geoscience graduate programs and the geoscience workplace after commencement. For more information, please contact Professor Asa-Awuku (

See original announcement published by the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, A. James Clark School of Engineering, UMD.