The Geosciences Ambassadors Program

Geoscience Ambassadors are cultivating a larger and more diverse geoscientific community by:

  • Documenting their own pathways into the geosciences, and presenting these authentic stories to young people, catalysts and influencers in their home communities.

  • Reporting what they learn about how geoscientific pathways are perceived by members of their home communities, and how they could be better supported.

  • Leading a support network for prospective, incoming and graduating students in the geosciences.

Program Rationale

The world needs a bigger and more diverse geoscientific community. And yet, young would-be geoscientists must navigate a variety of geographically and culturally specific barriers to and preconceptions of geoscientific career pathways. We don't know very much about how the students who ultimately find their way do it. So, we are asking!


Since 2018, a team of researchers and educators at UT Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences has been collaborating with undergraduate and graduate students on a unique kind of changemaking activity in the geosciences. In assuming the role of Geosciences Ambassador, these students research and reflect upon who they are and where they come from, ultimately crafting authentic, video-based "pathway stories" that document their personal journey into the geosciences in ways that speak to the home communities with which they identify most. They then share their stories via outreach and education activities of their own design. In crafting and sharing their stories beyond the wals of the university, Ambassadors and the communities with which they engage are better able to make sense of and change personal and local perceptions of what the geosciences are, who gets to become a scientist and what scientists can and should do in the world. Working within the university, the Ambassadors provide support for prospective, incoming and graduating students in the geosciences.

The program has the longer-term potential to influence the geosciences as a discipline. A pathway mapping activity developed for the program has been used successfully with the Geological Society of America (GSA) On To the Future Program, in which over 300 participants used the exercise to recognize the experiences and events that allow them to make a unique contribution to the geosciences and reflect on professional goal-setting. Further resources, including a website that includes ambassadors’ videos and personal narratives, have been used in teacher workshops and disseminated in scientific conferences to to K-12 audiences, college and university faculty, and geoscience education researchers. These include the 2019 American Geophysical Union (AGU) GIFT workshop, the GSA 2020 South Central Sectional Meeting (Ross et al., 2020) and 2022 Annual Meeting (Campos et al., 2022), the 2021 AGU symposium “Diverse Voices: Embedding Science Storytelling in Pedagogical Practice”, a workshop at the Earth Educators Rendezvous (Papendieck et al., 2021), and the 2022 AGU presentation “Cultivating Transformational Science Identities in a Geoscience Ambassadors Program” (Papendieck et al., 2022). Additionally, a practitioner-oriented article about Geoscience Ambassadors appeared in the National Association of Geoscience Teachers magazine In the Trenches (Ellins et al., 2021), and a full-length article is currently in review at the Journal of Geoscience Education (Ellins et al., submitted).

Learn More


Dr. Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences in the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin. She is also a John A. Wilson Centennial Fellow in Vertebrate Paleontology and a member of the Graduate Faculty in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at UT.

She has a Ph.D. from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University and a B.A. (comparative literature and geobiology) from Brown University. She currently serves as co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Anatomy and is an associate editor of Paleobiology. She has published numerous technical papers, including 9 in Nature or Science, and has been recognized for excellence in research, undergraduate teaching, and outreach.

Dr. Kathy Ellins

Kathy Ellins holds a Ph.D. in Geography from Columbia University, a Masters in Science Teaching (MAT) from New York University and a B.A. in Geology from Skidmore College. Kathy is a collaborative STEM educator who strives to translate educational research into practice to improve science learning and reach the public. With funding from the NSF, she led the creation of online K-12 curriculum for the DIG Texas Instructional Blueprints for Teaching Earth Science project, Water Exploration and GeoFORCE Texas' 12th Grade Summer Academy. Dr. Ellins is a Fulbright CORE Scholar and the 2017 recipient of the NAGT Neil Miner Award for exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the Earth sciences.

Dr. Adam Papendieck

Adam Papendieck is a Learning Scientist and Lecturer at the Jackson School of Geosciences with over 15 years of experience engaging technology for education, capacity-building and collective action. He has led educational research and development projects funded by the CDC, USAID and NEA. His research is focused on communication and learning in culturally, disciplinarily and technologically diverse networks. A recent editor of the Texas Education Review, he has reviewed for and published in a variety of scholarly journals, and regularly presents work at conferences for the American Education Research Association (AERA), the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Dr. Lucas Legendre

Lucas Legendre is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Clarke Lab in the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a Ph.D. in Paleontology and a M.S. in Systematics from Sorbonne University (France), and was previously a Postdoctoral Researcher at the National Museum, Bloemfontein (South Africa). His research focuses on vertebrate evolution and the development of comparative statistical tools in paleobiology. Dr. Legendre has reviewed for and published in a variety of academic journals and developed teaching and mentoring material for several programs, including the HHMI-funded Curiosity to Question course created by Dr. Clarke at the Jackson School.


This work has been supported by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor Grant to Julia Clarke.

This work has also been supported by the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin as an effort of The Clarke Lab and the Learning Science CoLab.