Gender diversity leads to better science; however, a number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, including many geoscience subdisciplines, show a persistent gender gap. PROmoting Geoscience Research, Education, and SuccesS (PROGRESS) is a theory-driven role modeling and mentoring program aimed at supporting undergraduate women interested in geoscience-related degree and career pathways. This study is unique because it is being conducted in a long-term applied setting, rather than as a laboratory exercise. We compare female STEM majors in PROGRESS to a matched control group (N = 380) using a longitudinal prospective multisite quasi-experimental design. College women in PROGRESS participated in a mentoring and role-modeling weekend workshop with followup support, while women in the control group participated in neither the workshop nor the follow-up support. PROGRESS members identified more female STEM career role models than controls (60% versus 42%, respectively), suggesting that deliberate interventions can develop the networks of undergraduate women. Undergraduate women that participate in PROGRESS have higher rates of persistence in geoscience-related majors (95% versus 73%), although the rates of switching into a geoscience-related major did not differ across groups. More strikingly, we also find that the persistence of undergraduate women in geoscience-related majors is related to the number of female STEM career role models they identify, as their odds of persisting approximately doubles for each role model they identify. We conclude that our ability to retain undergraduate women in the geosciences will depend, in part, on helping them to identify same-gender career role models. Further, the success of PROGRESS points to steps universities and departments can take to sustain their students’ interest and persistence, such as hosting interactive panels with diverse female scientists to promote the attainability and social relevance of geoscience careers.

Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC license.

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