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Geosciences, The University of Arizona

Information for this profile was provided by Philip Stokes, The University of Arizona. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The geosciences program at UA offers a B.S. in geosciences as well as M.S., PhD, and Economic Geology Professional Science Masters (PSM). We grant about 20-25 B.S. degrees, 13 M.S. degrees, and 10 PhD degrees per calendar year. The program is part of the School of Earth and Environmental Science, in the College of Science. The program has about 200 declared geoscience majors. Majors can concentrate in one of three tracks: Geology, Geophysics, or Earth Systems. Our Introductory Physical Geology course (Geos 251) is an extremely popular lab-based science course, and has 30-50% enrollment of non-geology majors each semester. In addition to serving geoscience majors, the department serves the university by offering several general education survey courses for non-science majors, at the 100 and 200 level. These courses serve anywhere from 150 to 1,000 students per section.

Strengths of this program
Our program is unique in that it is strongly field and laboratory based, providing our students with opportunities for rich experiential learning. Our graduate degree program is ranked #1 in the nation, thanks to a faculty dedicated to both world-class research and excellence in teaching. Undergraduates have many options for participating in research, and are encouraged to participate in local and national meetings and conferences. Our curriculum exposes our students to both foundational geology concepts and skills (such as field mapping and classical structural geology and petrology), and current, cutting edge research topics (such as climate science and astrobiology). Our department also has strong ties to industry, providing many opportunities for our students to participate in internships with companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron. Being in the Copper State, our world class economic geology program focuses on training students for careers in the mining and earth materials industries.

Types of students served
Our program serves a demographic of students that reflects the student demographics of the UA College of Science. It is rare for students to declare geoscience as their major in their freshman year. Geoscience majors are often transfer students, coming to us from other majors (science and non-science) at UA. Geoscience has seen an increase in women majors over the last decade or so, with our program having anywhere from 35-75% women enrolled as majors in any given semester. Regarding race/ethnicity, the UA department of geosciences has 15.7% underrepresented minorities (African American, American Indian, and Hispanic), and 33% of the department is non-caucasian. The department has gone to great lengths, primarily through outreach programs, to increase the diversity of of the student population, as well as diversity in the geosciences in general. The demographics in our program is fairly representative of the demographics of UA.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:
The undergraduate degree program in Geosciences is designed to give undergraduates a world-class experience in the geosciences during which they will develop discipline-specific skills as well as more general problem solving and professional skills. The undergraduate student learning outcomes for our BS degree are:

  1. Graduates will have a working knowledge of common Earth materials including their composition, origin, and uses.
  2. Graduates will understand Earth surface processes and how humans affect and are affected by the processes.
  3. Graduates will understand processes in the Earth's interior.
  4. Graduates will know the geologic time scale and major Earth events.
  5. Graduates will understand how physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics are applied to the study of the Earth present and past.
  6. Graduates will acquire specific skills required for the study and interpretation of geological materials, history, and features.
  7. Graduates will be able to read and critically evaluate primary Earth science literature and data.
  8. Graduates will able to present geological information clearly in written and oral form.
  9. Understanding the process of scientific inquiry.

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:
Program goals were developed based on input from students, faculty, and industry partners. Faculty were asked to describe what their course objectives were, and furthermore, what their objectives were for students graduating with a degree from UA Geosciences. Informal discussions with students about what makes the program strong and what could be improved informed some of our recent curricular updates, such as adding the Earth Systems track a few years ago. Industry partners gave us input about skills and strengths they are looking for when recruiting students for both internships and professional careers in industry.

How program goals are assessed
Students are expected to gain the skills identified in the learning outcomes above within courses taken as part of the degree program. For each of our core courses, the faculty assessed whether each identified outcome is Not Considered, Considered, Emphasized, or Strongly Emphasized in the core courses they teach, or in a selection of upper division courses. Assessment activities within these courses include exams (in-class and take home), written papers, in-class presentations, as well as lab and field reports. Additionally, all undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to participate in research projects supervised by faculty, as part of the faculty's funded research projects. The supervising faculty informally assess these students through one-on-one guidance and evaluation of their work. All of our undergraduate majors are required to participate in a field-based or laboratory based capstone experience, which is most often field camp. Students who do not take field camp must propose an alternative that is deemed equivalent in its rigor (e.g., in-depth laboratory study, alternative field-based study).

Design features that allow goals to be met:
Regular assessments in various forms, both formal and informal, allow our faculty to reflect on whether or not program goals are being met. We conduct exit interviews with all graduating majors, either one-on-one (conducted by the Chair or Associate Chair of the department) or as a written document. These exit interviews often inform proposed curricular or programmatic changes.

Alumni Careers

Graduation rate
UA geosciences has about 200 undergraduate majors and 50 graduate students in any given semester. The number of undergraduate majors is steadily rising, and has grown by more than 300% in the last seven years. The growth of the program is very closely related to the cost of a barrel of oil – when the petroleum industry is booming, our department attracts more majors! We also suspect the prominence of STEM careers in the national and international dialogue about economic growth is driving more students to major in science and mathematical fields. The overall enrollment in STEM fields at UA is increasing as well. Our enrollment of graduate students has been steady. We grant about 20-25 BS degrees, 13 MS degrees, 10 PhD degrees, and 3 PSM degrees each calendar year.

Careers pursued by our alumni
Our undergraduates follow a variety of paths after graduation, including graduate programs in various sciences, teaching careers at all levels (K-12 and college), jobs in industry, and other professional careers. Our graduate students overwhelmingly follow one of four paths: PhD programs and post-doctoral positions (more than 40%), mineral resources, and petroleum related professions. The rest go into various positions such as consulting/engineering, faculty positions, governmental/geological survey, K-12 education, and non-postdoctoral research. This very closely reflects the goals of our program.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements

Entry into the degree
Our general education offerings, for non-science majors, often lead students to become geoscience majors. These courses are Geos 170A1 Earth: From Birth to Death?, and Geos 212 Oceanography, Geos 218 Geologic Disasters and Society. Geos 251 Physical Geology is the first course any of our majors must take to fulfill our degree requirements. Geos 255 Historical Geology is the only other 200 level course required of our students, and might be a gateway into the major. All students must earn a C or better in 251 and 255 to be allowed to enroll in our 300 level core courses.

Core Courses
There is one CORE course required for all of our tracks, which is Geos 251 Physical Geology. Required courses for each track are as follows:

Geology: Requires 52 units of CORE. Courses are
Geos 302 Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Geos 304 Structural Geology
Geos 306 Mineralogy
Geos 308 Paleontology
Geos 322 Intro to Geophysics
Geos 356 Petrology
Geos 414 Geology Field Camp

Geophysics: Requires 52 units of CORE. Courses are
Geos 302 Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Geos 304 Structural Geology
Geos 306 Mineralogy
Geos 308 Paleontology
Geos 322 Intro to Geophysics
Geos 356 Petrology
Geos 414 Geology Field Camp
Geos 416 Field Studies in Geophysics
Geos 419 Physics of the Earth
Geos 432 Intro to Seismology
Geos 434A Intro to Exploration to Seismology
Geos 448 Geophysical Exploration

Earth Systems Science: Requires 19 units of CORE. Courses are
Geos 251 Physical Geology
Geos 302 Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
Geos 478 Global Change
Geos 342 Evolution of the Earth, Oceans, and Atmosphere
Geos 414/research Field camp or equivalent

Elective courses and Requirements
All tracks allow for opportunities for about 13 units of free electives, which is roughly 4 courses. Elective courses include, but are not limited to:
Mineral and Energy Resources, Geochemistry, Earth Science Teaching, short courses in Ore Deposits and Ore deposit mapping (required for students in economic geology program), Ocean sciences, Tectonic Petrology, Geologic Hazards, Sedimentary Basin Analysis, Regional Structural Geology, Advanced Field mapping, Space Geodesy, Chemical Evolution of the Earth, Dendrochronology, Thrust Belts.

Geos 414 Field Camp

Supporting Science and Math Courses
Supporting math and science courses that are typically part of the degree are Introductory lab based Chemistry, Introductory lab based Physics (calculus or non-calculus based, depending on track), Computer Science, and Calculus I and II.

Other key features of this program:

Supporting Materials

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