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Rebecca Barnes. Photo from Earth Science Women's Network website.

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Not many women are working in science and engineering jobs - in the United States men outnumber women by nearly three to one. In some fields, such as geosciences, the gap is even larger.

A new nationwide project aimed at recruiting and retaining women in the geosciences has a local connection.

Assistant Professor Rebecca Barnes, who started teaching at Colorado College last week in the environmental program, is one of six principal investigators on a $1.7 million grant titled "Collaborative Research: Improving the Recruitment and Persistence of Women in the Geosciences: Exploring Deliberate Mentoring Approaches Aimed at Undergraduate Students."

The initiative, led by Colorado State University, is a multi-campus project that addresses two issues: underrepresentation of women in the earth sciences and shortcomings of existing studies addressing effective strategies for mentoring.

The grant seeks to close the gender gap in the geosciences - mining and geology, atmospheric and environmental sciences, issues related to natural resource management, natural disaster forecasting and oceanography.

"Many of us had few female professors or classmates as we went through school," said Barnes, a biogeochemist and ecosystem ecologist. "We are hoping that this program creates a mentoring network that helps offset some of these feelings of isolation."

Barnes will help develop a pilot program on Colorado's Front Range and in the Carolinas.

"Our hope is that the network will increase the students' success and advancement in their chosen field," she said.

The proposal builds on two mentoring programs for women in geosciences. One is the primarily web-based Earth Science Women's Network group, of which Barnes is a board member. The second is the Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes, a recruiting organization.

The plan is to provide regional workshops and online mentoring targeting students in introductory geoscience courses, to give ongoing support for women considering careers in the discipline.

Other schools participating in the program are West Virginia University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Colorado State University.

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