Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Bucking the Trend: Three New Geoscience Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Bucking the Trend: Three New Geoscience Programs

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

At a time when geoscience departments are being eliminated or dispersed, three new undergraduate geoscience degree-granting programs were approved during the past decade. These programs have grown into sustainable academic entities that maintain solid enrollments and place students into high quality graduate programs and geoscience careers. The curricula at all three institutions focus on graduate school preparation and/or career placement, and include a strong commitment to fieldwork and undergraduate research. Each program has faculty members who have made program development their primary professional goal. The faculty also faced similar challenges in the early stages of program development, such as having to teach a wide variety of upper division courses, needing to establish program credibility, finding the time and funding necessary for faculty and undergraduate research, obtaining materials for laboratory courses, and recruiting majors. The experience and knowledge gained through the development of these new programs should be valuable for others working to establish new programs and maintain existing programs.

INTRODUCTION

The elimination, dispersion and downsizing of geoscience departments in response to budgetary and other constraints has been extensively reported (Lubick, 2004; Rossbacher and Rhodes, 2004a,b,c; see box 1). According to the American Geological Institute, at least sixteen B.S or higher degree-granting geoscience departments in the United States and Canada were eliminated or dispersed over the past decade (Keane, 2005, personal communication). In contrast, at least three new undergraduate geoscience degree-granting programs were approved during the past decade. New geoscience programs at St. Norbert College (SNC) and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), and a geology-based environmental science major at Black Hills State University (BHSU) have experienced steady to rapid growth of majors despite small budgets and limited faculty. Each program has already placed students into some of the top-ranked geoscience graduate programs in the country and other graduates have obtained employment in various geoscience fields. The three institutions have different traits, student demographics, and geoscience curricula, yet have common themes, including a focus on graduate school and career preparation, a strong devotion to field work, a commitment to involving undergraduates in research, and incorporating traditional geology program elements into the curriculum. The information presented in this paper provides insight to both developing and established programs and may give geoscience department leaders useful information in preparing arguments for the preservation and growth of their own programs.

BACKGROUND AND HISTORY OF THE PROGRAMS

St. Norbert College - St. Norbert College is a small (~2100 students), residential, selective, denominational college located in DePere, Wisconsin (Table 1). Approximately 60% of the students are from Wisconsin, 20% from Illinois, and 10% from Minnesota. The average ACT score is slightly above 24 and family income slightly less than $80,000 per year. More than 50% of all students major in the teacher preparation or business programs, fewer than 20% major in the areas of math and science. There are 128 full-time faculty. DePere is part of the Green Bay metropolitan area, which has a population of approximately 220,000. Significant businesses in the area are paper making, health care, and the Green Bay Packers professional football team.

The geology program is a recent addition to St. Norbert College. Geology courses were initially introduced into the curriculum when the first geology faculty member was hired in 1987; within five years SNC graduates were attending geology graduate programs. In the fall of 1994 the second full-time geology faculty was hired, and the B.S. in geology was approved in spring of 1995. A third full-time geology professor was added in the fall of 2003. …

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