SOLARIS Program Description


SOLARIS (Student Opportunity for Learning Advanced Research In geoScience) is a track-one, multi-faceted NSF (National Science Foundation) OEDG (Opportunities in Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences) funded project. The SOLARIS program is aimed to increase participation, particularly for minority students, in the geosciences at El Paso Community College. Workshops for local high school instructors and EPCC faculty were also conducted to promote strategies to engage students with innovative lab activities as well as information on careers in the geosciences and degree plans offered by EPCC and University of Texas at El Paso.

The SOLARIS program has allowed over 20 EPCC geological science majors to conduct geological research at El Paso Community College and  at the University of Texas at El Paso. This facet of the SOLARIS project allows EPCC students to develop research skills while obtaining their associate (AS) degree and introduces them to the faculty and facilities at the UTEP Geoscience Department. Students are mentored by both EPCC and UTEP instructors and use facilities and equipment at both institutions.


 Border to Beltway Program


Community College students account for over 40% of all undergraduates in the US as well as the majority of minority students attending undergraduate courses. With issues in the geosciences such as; being the least diverse of all major STEM fields, an increasing number of retiring geoscientists, and a projected geoscience job growth not matching the number of geoscience graduates, the geoscience community needs to look at community colleges as a solution to these issues. A key factor for students entering and excelling in the geoscience is the opportunity for formative undergraduate field experiences. Formative field experiences go beyond one-day field excursions by incorporating field projects, interactive learning, and community building between participants in regions students are unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, these types of formative experiences often require logistics and resources that are not available or known to community college faculty.  In order to build a framework for implementing formative field experiences by community colleges a two-week “field exchange” between two community colleges with different geological, social, and cultural settings was conducted.


Supported with a supplemental grant from NSF, the “Border to Beltway” program provided 11 students from El Paso Community College and another 13 from Northern Virginia Community College with two one-week regional geology field trips: First, to West Texas in March 2014, and second, to the mid-Atlantic region in May 2014. Students were selected based on academic standing, non-traditional (minority, female, over 35, veteran) status, and interest in geology. Data collected on the project regarding the implementation of the field exchange is provided below:

Post-project summary (PDF)

Budget (PDF)