October 12, 2016

Q & A with Wendi Williams about Geoscience Diversity

Posted by smaguffin

As part of Earth Science Week, we’ll be highlighting different leaders in the geosciences – from research to education and community outreach. We are posting Q&A’s on The Bridge asking geoscientists about the work they do.

Today’s theme is Geoscience for Everyone Day and one of our featured AGU members is Wendi J. W. Williams, Ph.D. Wendi is adjunct faculty at both Northwest Arkansas Community College in their Division for Science and Mathematics and The University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Department of Earth Sciences.


Could you summarize your job in a sentence or two?

At this point in my career, I bring Earth Science literacy into the lives of non-majors and majors in the geosciences, as well as to pre-service teacher candidates taking core science courses toward their Associates and/or Bachelor’s degrees. Through additional volunteerism for educational outreach, I help others learn more about their environment to hopefully help them become better stewards of our planet, resources and public policy… as I really do still believe that education provides opportunities for broadening one’s understanding of themselves and others.

What progress has been made and what more needs to be done to make the geosciences more inclusive?

Through the years I have become increasingly aware of the many kinds of diversity in my students: learning preferences, amount of college preparation, first generation college-bound, ages represented by concurrent enrollment as high school students through retirees, persons with disabilities, English language learners, and military active duty and/or veteran status. Early in my association with UA-Little Rock, Earth Science faculty joined a pilot program with the Disability Resource Center. “Project PACE” was funded by the U.S. Dept. of Ed and UALR to teach faculty to use Universal Design techniques in order to reduce barriers for the majority of students while increasing access to higher education. I believe that deliberate application of Universal Design in our educational practices in higher education, and more specifically within the geosciences, will foster better inclusion of underrepresented populations.

There has been progress, but slow up until the most recent decade. The truth of the matter is that recruitment of students into the geosciences more than likely actually starts in the very early elementary grades. As we as a community work toward improving STEM literacy and career awareness (e.g. Next Generation Science Standards, professional society outreach such as “Earth Science Week”), we need to extend our efforts of better inclusion of Persons with Disabilities with STEM experiences prior to post-secondary education. We need to work closely with formal and informal programs / K-12 colleagues regarding techniques and opportunities for students with exceptionalities.


Why is it important that we make the earth sciences more inclusive?

We know that biodiversity is important to healthy ecosystems. It stands to reason that inclusion provides more diversity within our own human capital and can lead to enrichment of our profession. I fully anticipate that including a broader range of perspectives will result in a broader scope of approaches addressing societal concerns.

How do you see the role of science and earth science in society?

Relevant. More than ever, considering societal behaviors (and consequences) necessitating interdisciplinary actions that need to be made more deliberately and collectively. But we need to continue to use multiple ways to better communicate “how so” to the general population, many of who have not had courses beyond K-12 (decades ago, even). The many literacy initiatives are providing discussion points that can be broadly applied. For instance, I purposefully tie my course materials to the Earth Science Literacy “Big Ideas” right from the start…then keep coming back to the ideas as we progress or as “teachable moments” are afforded by nature and/or news events.

How, if at all, is your work supported/affected by federal/state funding?

If funding to the public higher education institutions in our state continues to be cut then pressure exists to curtail maintaining geoscience curriculum in higher education – which directly impacts my opportunities for continued employment where my family calls “home” now. Arkansas has adopted the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards, so it is even more imperative now that our future teachers have course/s in Earth and Space Science content—and my higher education colleagues should consider how best to instruct the majority of elementary and middle childhood teacher candidates that take that content as part of core requirements (but not in sections specifically for teacher education). We must do an excellent job communicating Earth Science literacy to the teaching candidates in our higher educational settings, considering the potential positive multiplier effect that can have with their own students in the future. It’s our future too, really.



Northwest Arkansas Community College geology student in wheelchair pushed by his mother with his young nephew alongside

Do you have a favorite photograph from your career? If so, would you share it with us and tell us why it is important to you?

The image I have provided is one that I took during an accessible field trip I designed and used with my Summer 2016 General Geology course for Northwest Arkansas Community College. It was relatively early morning in an Arkansas summer…we did this stop early because the student in his wheelchair can’t regulate body temperature well due to his paralysis. The field trip stop after this one was underground in a commercial cave where I have established a relationship with the owners; they allow our groups to stay in the caverns longer than their regular tours so that my classes can do trip lessons.

Why do I like this particular image? It shows generational support of a first generation college student. Through different ways of mobility, we were passing through a tunnel made straight and taking us from the past to the present to the future (toward the path to geology on that day). This image preserved a moment in time that reflects what the community college strives to provide for our students: a clear path to their future by way of higher education to benefit the broader community.


Are there any social media or website links you would like us to promote?

Thank you for this opportunity to share several sites that are instrumental (past and present at this point) to informing my pedagogical practices and other ways we promote the geosciences:

The International Association for Geoscience Diversity www.theiagd.org

Supporting & Advancing Geoscience Education in Two-Year Colleges* (SAGE 2YC) http://serc.carleton.edu/sage2yc/index.html

SAGE 2YC Supporting 2YC Students with Disabilities*


AccessSTEM (including Universal Design)


National Center on Universal Design for Learning http://www.udlcenter.org/

*Please Note: Although developed with 2YC in mind, quite frankly I find the content is appropriate for a variety of institutions that I work for or with — including bridging with K-12 STEM formal and informal education applications.