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Cooperating to Lead
M. Ray Thomasson

The American Geological Institute (AGI) formed with the goal of uniting the various professional societies in the geoscience community. Fifty-five years later, the institute continues to seek new ways and ideas on how to facilitate cooperation among its member societies and represent the entire range of earth science disciplines.

As part of its mission, AGI held its second annual Leadership Forum in May. Hosted by the National Academies Board on Earth Sciences and Research in Washington, D.C., the forum included some 30 participants, including presidents, executive directors and council representatives from 20 AGI member societies.
With the theme "Improved Effectiveness through Increased Cooperation," the forum aimed to find ways to improve communications across the geosciences.

Discussions of critical issues identified important opportunities for intersociety cooperation. Through the forum process, we expect to increase the effectiveness of geoscience programs, see a reduction in costly duplication of efforts, improve service to society members and enhance the public's awareness of the geosciences.
This year's forum was designed and developed with input from the leaders of AGI member societies. What follows is an overview of the issues addressed and proposed outcomes:

Ensure a supply of geoscientists

Setting the context for the morning session, AGI's director of technology and communications, Christopher Keane, noted the decline over the past 10 years in the enrollment of geoscience majors in university programs. Current enrollments are now at the same level as the mid-1960s. The decline is largely the result of perceived fewer job opportunities for geoscience graduates, increased competition for students by other disciplines, and a continuing overall decline in student participation in the physical sciences. Working with university department chairs, private sector companies and federal agencies, AGI proposes to continue monitoring employment and career opportunities in the geosciences.

Certify more earth science teachers. Robert Ridky, educational coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), presented a case for calling on geoscience departments to increase the number of academic programs that certify earth science teachers. In an AGI survey of some 400 geoscience departments, only 150 indicated they offer programs allowing geoscience majors to also obtain earth science teacher certification. (Geotimes, September 2002). Our nation's schools have a desperate need for qualified science teachers, particularly in the earth sciences. In light of the declining university enrollments noted above, this is a potential growth area for geoscience departments.

Strengthen undergraduate programs. AGI's incoming president Barbara Tewksbury, who is the Stephen Harper Kirner Professor of Geology at Hamilton College, discussed a program being conducted by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) to strengthen undergraduate geoscience education. One aim of the program is to bring greater awareness of emerging geoscience research topics to the undergraduate classroom. It is also providing support to early career faculty to increase their teaching skills and help attract geoscience majors to their departments.

Enhance diversity in the earth sciences. Bringing more minorities into the earth sciences will require greater cooperation within the geoscience community. That was the message from Jill Karsten, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) education and career services manager. Hispanics and African Americans make up 25 percent of the overall U.S. population but only account for 5 percent of the geoscience degrees granted in this country. AGU hosted a conference last month to address diversity in the geosciences. The outcomes of the conference will be featured in the September issue of Geotimes.

Reach out. Cindy Martinez, AGI's project coordinator for professional development, emphasized the need for geoscience outreach programs. One example is AGI's annual Earth Science Week, scheduled for the week of Oct. 12 with the theme of "Eyes on Planet Earth: Monitoring Our Changing World." Martinez encouraged the participants to spread the word so that the entire geoscience community takes part in hosting and sponsoring Earth Science Week programs. She also discussed programs for increasing geoscience representation in national parks and discussed a new AGI project to develop a television series based on Rod Redfern's geohistory book Origins, which describes the evolution of continents, oceans and life. The goal is for the series to be distributed internationally.

Measure constraints on scientific interaction. AGU public affairs manager Pete Folger wrapped up the human resources portion of the forum by discussing concerns related to constraints on international scientific interaction in the post-9/11 world. The primary concern is restriction on foreign students and scientists traveling to the United States. AGU will coordinate a survey of geosocieties to determine the seriousness of the problem.

Federal geoscience funding

Form a USGS coalition. David Applegate, AGI's director of government affairs and editor of Geotimes, reviewed the president's fiscal year 2004 budget request and discussed some of the significant cuts the budget proposes in federal science programs. Many cuts target the USGS, and AGI is working to establish a coalition of organizations united by their commitment to the continued vitality of the unique combination of biological, geological, hydrological and mapping programs the USGS provides.

Restore DOE's oil and gas research budget. Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology with the University of Texas, discussed proposed reductions to the Department of Energy's (DOE) budget for oil and gas research. Of the total $23 billion requested for DOE in the fiscal year 2004, only 3 percent would support energy research; and of the $800 million DOE energy research budget, only 2 percent is designated for oil and gas research. This situation is in stark contrast to the fact that, for the next 100 years, the United States and, to a larger degree, the world will depend on gas resources to sustain economic development. Tinker requested that all those societies interested in supporting university-based oil and gas research jointly explore opportunities for restoring DOE oil and gas research funding.

Sharing and finding information

A key topic at the forum was e-publishing and the need for increasing access to geoscience information.

Cooperative e-publishing.
J. Alexander Speer, executive director of the Mineralogical Society of America, updated forum participants on GeoScience World, a proposal for geoscience societies to band together in an electronic aggregate of their journals and other publications. To date, seven societies, including AGI, are working collectively to make GeoScience World a reality. The group expects to have a business plan available for review and consideration early this fall and is actively soliciting societies to join with them in this effort.

Access through digitizing. American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) executive director Rick Fritz presented the data access opportunities offered by the DataPages initiative. AAPG has digitized and geocoded the association's entire journal collection from 1918 to the present, making it accessible to GIS programs, so that subscribers can develop unique geological data sets. Fritz encouraged other geoscience societies to work with AAPG and make their publications GIS accessible.

Geoinformatics. AGI's Keane presented the institute's plans for establishing a Geoinformatics Advisory Committee, which would build a bridge uniting the private sector, academic community and federal agencies. This bridge would enhance national support for geoinformatics, which is the plan for implementing a unified geoscience data and information system integrating research data, analytic tools and visualization applications into a single system for community-wide access in research and education. Member societies are invited to nominate candidates to serve on the committee.

A funding alliance. Jan van Sant, executive director of the AGI Foundation, called for an alliance of geoscience society foundations. Private-sector support for many programs is shrinking. We all have witnessed expensive duplication of programs in some areas. An alliance could provide an open forum for reviewing areas of mutual interest and a broad scope of foundations that could promote working together to support critical programs.

The 2003 Leadership Forum was an outstanding success. AGI looks forward to working cooperatively with its member societies to effectively address issues of mutual interest within our profession and community. I strongly recommend we continue to convene the forum annually to assess opportunities and needs calling for a collective and cooperative approach.


Thomasson is the 2003 president of the American Geological Institute, which is the publisher of Geotimes, and president of Thomasson Partner Associates in Denver, Colorado. E-mail: tpaexpl@aol.com
Opinions and conclusions expressed in this section by the authors are their own and not necessarily those of AGI, its staff or its member societies.

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