Collaborative Project: Active Societal Participation in Research and Education (ASPIRE)

The Active Societal Participation In Research and Education (ASPIRE) program seeks to expand the
places and people involved in meeting challenging environmental and climate change issues through
supporting and encouraging geoscience research co-managed by scientists and community members.
The vision of ASPIRE is that supporting place-based, community-based work will simultaneously attract,
recruit, and retain a wider diversity of early career scientists in Geoscience, as well as strengthen public
trust in Geoscience to address the local-to-global environmental issues threatening our world. ASPIRE
recognizes that the urgency of these issues means work to develop geoscientist leaders must be
accompanied by meaningful and equitable exchange with under-resourced and minority communities that
have often been left out of environmental research and solutions. The goal is to shift academic cultures
in ways that can support these efforts by developing a learning ecosystem that engages early career
scientists (Pathmakers) and community members in a phased curriculum that 1) offers a virtual
discussion series to have broad impact for a large number of participants, 2) offers immersive institutes
for early career scientists to participate in person and in community for training around ethical and
equitable best practices, 3) provides support both financially and through mentoring for these new leaders
to carry out co-produced research in equitable exchange working groups, 4) connects Changemakers
from administrative leadership roles in an innovation incubator to pursue broad policy change and 5)
cultivates a community of practice for participants to grow and communally learn from one another.

There is a documented tendency in the sciences to discount the experiences, knowledges, perspectives
and priorities of non-dominant communities. The ASPIRE program outlines a mechanism for
transformation of the Geosciences that reverses institutional discounting of non-dominant priorities, and
supports and elevates asset-based framing of community cultural capital. This project continues work to
understand geoscience boundary spanners who “have a foot in both worlds” of mainstream geoscience
and community. The project pursues a theory of change that place-based, community-based research,
co-produced with boundary spanners, becomes a catalyst for cultural transformation in both the
Geosciences and in community collaborations. Research questions examine the core leadership
competencies that contribute to the application of leadership theory to boundary spanning work, and
determine how a two-cohort Pathmaker and Changemaker model can actively engage power structures
in mainstream science to effect meaningful institutional change. This work will raise the visibility and
relevant application of the geosciences within marginalized communities and ultimately help increase
participation from places and peoples that have been historically underrepresented in STEM.

Funding: National Science Foundation (5 years)

PI: Lora Harris: Co-PIs: M. Hatch, Julia Parrish, N. Baloy, C. Davis