OOS 1-1 - Racial differences in the students’ perceptions of and desire to work in the conservation field

Monday, August 7, 2017: 1:30 PM
Portland Blrm 254, Oregon Convention Center
Dorceta Taylor, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

There is strong evidence that minority students are interested in conservation careers despite data showing that the percentage of people of color currently employed in this workforce is low. So, what factors influence students to pursue conservation careers? In this presentation I will examine racial differences in (a) conservation identity, (b) students' interest in conservation careers, (c) the factors that influence students to work in conservation, and (d) salary expectations.

This study uses a purposive sampling technique to identify and survey STEM students who show an interest in programs aimed at broadening participation in conservation science. Between May 4, 2016 and June 21, 2016, surveys were sent to students who:

  • Were admitted to the University of Michigan’s Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program,
  • Completed all or most of the University of Michigan’s Doris Duke Conservation Scholars application but were not admitted to this or any other Doris Duke conservation programs,
  • Are participating in two National Science Research for Undergraduates biology field courses,
  • Participated in the 2016 Historically Black Colleges and Universities climate conference,
  • Admitted to the Environmental Fellows Program, and
  • Completed the Environmental Fellows Program application but was not admitted.

Surveys were sent to 391 students before they started summer internships or enrichment programs. The surveys, administered through a Qualtrics platform, allowed for anonymity. The platform also prevented an individual from responding to the survey more than once. Usable surveys were received from 161 students who attended 98 different colleges and universities in the U.S. The effective response rate was 41.2%.


The sample contained 111 minority, 46 White, and four students who didn’t reveal their racial backgrounds. The data revealed that most students were more likely to describe themselves as an environmentalist rather than as a conservationist. More than half of the students identified themselves most of the time or always as an environmentalist. Though roughly 44% of Black and Asian students identified themselves as a conservationist most of the time or always, more than 60% of the remaining students did likewise. The study also found that minority students are most comfortable working in organizations that promise jobs with upward mobility and incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion activities in their programming. Though most minority students have salary expectations that are higher than that of White students, the mean salary that minority students would accept to work in conservation organizations is on par with what is currently being paid in the field.