Inspiring the next generation of global scientists

Edward Geary, Director, The GLOBE Program

Photograph of Ed Geary
Ed Geary (Photo by Carlye Calvin, UCAR.)

"Research prepares you for a number of careers that are not necessarily focused just on science—if you're willing to explore," Edward Geary says.

Ed hasn't shied away from wearing multiple hats. A geologist by training, he combines science, education, and international collaboration in his role as director of a worldwide science education program.

More than 18 million measurements

The program, known as GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment), is aimed at K-12 students and their teachers, who receive training and support from a mentoring network of GLOBE Partners.

With the help of their teachers and partners, GLOBE students collaborate with research scientists to investigate their local environments and place their observations into regional and global contexts. GLOBE currently has 110 participating countries and has amassed a database with more than 18 million measurements.

For example, since 2001 a group of schoolchildren in Cameroon has been investigating the effects of climate change on agriculture in their province. Using instruments and protocols provided by GLOBE, the students have taken measurements demonstrating that decreased rainfall and humidity levels and increased temperatures are having a noticeable effect on corn harvests.

"GLOBE's mission really resonates with me because it engages students in taking action and being good stewards of the environment," says Ed, adding that his training in environmental sciences instilled in him the desire to "basically want to save the world."

"The program offers new ways to think about how to engage students and teachers to take care of the planet we live on, and to expand that out to their communities," he continues. "That's what keeps me coming here every day."

Pole-to-Pole 2008 Conference Poster
Students from northern Alaska and southern Argentina have been comparing their respective polar climates and environments through video conferences as part of GLOBE's Seasons and Biomes Project. The pole-to-pole interactions with students and scientists reach yet more participants from around the world via follow-up web chats, online forums, and the Chief Scientist's Blog. The Web events are part of GLOBE's International Polar Year activities.

Leading an international program

A typical day at work for Ed can vary widely. He spends the bulk of his time networking with partners and constituents, government agencies, and representatives from NASA, the program's main sponsor. He writes grant proposals, strengthens collaborations, and raises funds, in addition to helping his staff manage a complex international program on a day-to-day basis. Not surprisingly, he also travels often.

"My role is to support environmental education on local to global levels, since that's what GLOBE is all about," he says. "We want students to do authentic research on local environmental problems and gain regional and global understanding of the environmental issues facing their communities."

Ed and his staff also organize GLOBE Learning Expeditions, such as the June 2008 gathering in Cape Town, South Africa. Every four years, these conferences bring together students from around the world to present research projects to their peers, scientists, and the GLOBE community.

The Learning Expeditions also give students and their teachers the chance to establish cross-cultural friendships. "It's really a marvelous benefit that the program allows this social dynamic to occur as an offshoot of doing research," Ed says as he describes high school girls from Los Angeles interacting with their Egyptian counterparts. "While very different in their clothing, language, and customs, they share a love of science, the environment, and learning about each other's cultures."

The most challenging part of Ed's job is trying to manage a complex international program with diverse constituencies and competing demands, as well as handling a challenging funding scenario. He credits his staff of 27, most of whom are based at UCAR in Boulder. "The GLOBE staff brings lots of knowledge and expertise to the program, both educationally and internationally, as well as great technical support," he says.

Avoiding the geosciences?

Pole-to-Pole 2008 Conference Poster
The GLOBE Partner Newsletter covers topics ranging from regional news to updates about new educational products and other community information. The GLOBE Chief Scientist's Blog, by NCAR researcher Peggy LeMone, provides another source of information and interaction for this worldwide community of teachers, learners, and scientists. The newsletter, scientist's blog, and other features are available via GLOBE News Feeds.

Ed grew up outside Los Angeles. He got interested in science as a child. "We used to get up at three in the morning to watch space launches," he recalls.

Another influence was his participation in Boy Scouts. "It got me into the mountains and places I never would have gone otherwise," he says.

Though he loved the outdoors, Ed was determined to avoid the geosciences as a major when he started college at Stanford University. "My brother had majored in geology, and I was really tired of following in his footsteps," he says.

But Ed took a geology course during his first year and got hooked on the idea of going on field trips to look at rocks and try to understand complex Earth processes. "I thought, Wow, I can do something for a career that I would be doing anyway," he says.

After graduation, Ed worked for the United States Geological Survey for a year in Menlo Park, near San Francisco. His boss, an ore deposit geologist, hinted that he should apply to graduate school. "I knew I wanted to go back, but he gave me the nudge," Ed says.

Ed's next step was to Cornell University. While earning his doctorate in geology, he found himself increasingly interested in science education, despite the counsel of graduate advisers who urged him to pursue a research career. When he returned to California as a San Jose State University professor, he enjoyed it "because there were rewards for doing good teaching, as well as research," he says.

Something Ed noticed, however, was that many of his students were arriving unprepared for college-level science. "They didn't have very strong math and science backgrounds or interest, and I started wondering why," he says. So Ed applied for and received a grant to work with teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area during the summers to enhance their understanding and ability to teach Earth sciences. The experience changed his career path. "I decided that one of the things that was needed was a bridge between the research and education communities that was founded in good, solid science but that addressed the needs of classroom teachers."

His next move was to Colorado, where he spent eight years at the Geological Society of America, developing education and outreach programs. Ed then became director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Technology Education at Colorado State University for several years before coming to UCAR in 2004 to work on several science education grants. In 2005, he was appointed director of GLOBE.

An analytical approach, and passion, too

Ed stresses that science can serve as the foundation for many different career paths and tangents. "When you have a solid science background, it really helps you take an analytical approach to looking at issues and problems," he says.

He advises students to embrace quantitative studies. "Don't avoid the mathematical part of physics, chemistry, and Earth sciences. It's an important underpinning that many people tend to avoid," he says.

He also encourages young people to be open to new adventures and change in their professional lives. "Don't lock yourself into a career path because somebody else thinks that it would be good for you, or you think it's what you're going to do for 20 years," he says.

"Recognize you're going to change your path, probably several times. Be passionate about what you do."

by Nicole Gordon

June 2008

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