Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Sherman-Morris, Kathleen

Committee Member

Rodgers, John C., III

Committee Member

Schmitz, Darrel W.

Committee Member

Smith, Glenn D.

Committee Member

Walker, Ryan M.

Other Advisors or Committee Members

McNeal, Karen

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Geosciences


Societal awareness and general understanding of the diversity of geosciences environments and phenomena across regions is vital. The primary method to obtain information about geosciences is through mass media. However, there is little coverage of geosciences information and the public may not trust it because of low geosciences awareness. Geosciences are rarely included as part of K-12 curricula and are optional at the collegiate level, contributing to the public deficiency regarding awareness and understanding of the geosciences. This research study investigated methods utilizing outdoor resources in an effort to increase region-specific understanding and awareness of geosciences among diverse groups. A Mississippi K-12 educator professional development session and two middle-high schools were assessed for impact on understanding and interest related to geosciences. All participants utilized outdoor resources to model erosional processes and potential natural hazard events. Both participating schools have high underrepresented minority populations. Pre assessment evaluated participant awareness of Mississippi natural hazards. Teachers and student participants all demonstrated a low awareness of erosion processes specific to the region. Teachers completed erosion models indoors or outdoors, with indoor participants having a significant increase in earth science interest. All student participants completed the erosion model outside, with pre-post erosion comprehension resulting in significant increases for both the middle and high schools. The middle school had significant gains in earth science interest while the high school had a significant decrease regarding careers in geosciences. Virtual field guides developed by online graduate students demonstrating personal understanding of broad geosciences concepts in their local region were evaluated pre-post for impact on geosciences awareness, understanding, and confidence. Awareness factors included geographical community size and locations included in the field guide to demonstrate participant understanding. Significant increases in awareness regarding geoscience resources, including those outdoors, occurred. Significant increases also occurred in confidence utilizing geosciences resources and communicating about geosciences. The majority agreed that the experience of creating the field guide enhanced understanding of geosciences and interest in outdoor activities. Geographical size of participants’ residential communities was significantly related to awareness of regional locations, with urban residents including fewer outdoor locations in the field guide.