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Geology, Northern Virginia Community College

Information for this profile was provided by Callan Bentley in 2009.

Northern Virginia Community College is a two year college .

Overview and Context

Illustration of the Northern Virginia geology curriculum, constructed by Monica Bruckner, based on information provided by Callan Bentley. Click on the image to see a larger version.
The geology department at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is a non-major-department. To the extent that some of our students go on to major in geology, they get an Associate's of Science degree in Science at NOVA, then transfer to a four-year university where they take on intermediate- and upper-level coursework.

Program Design

I think we do a good job inspiring students to major in geology. Many of our students transfer to George Mason University, and a significant number of GMU geology majors started off at NOVA.

Goals and Assessment

Our goals in teaching geology at NOVA are twofold: (1) to foster a sense of geologic awareness and science literacy among non-majors; and (2) to prepare future geology majors with a robust foundation for future studies. We attempt to infuse a sense of earth stewardship into all of our classes.

Unsolicited feedback from students suggest that the first goal is met: students report a sense of connection with geology in their "everyday" lives. For the second goal, anecdotal evidence suggests that we generate a large proportion of the geology majors at the closest 4-year university, George Mason University.

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

  • Physical Geology
  • Historical Geology
  • Field Studies in Geology
  • A two-semester sequence in Oceanography

Core courses

  • Environmental Geology (Prerequisite: Physical or Historical Geology)
  • Mineralogy and Paleontology are both featured in our course catalog, but neither has been taught in several years. Mineralogy was offered twice, but failed to attract enough students for the course to run, and Paleontology will be offered for the first time in a coming semester.


Since there is no geology "major," no electives are explicitly required. However, the Annandale campus of NOVA offers some unique courses. Supported by Virginia Community College System professional development grants, we have developed and teach

  • a 2-credit course on the Oceanography of the Chesapeake Bay
  • a 2-credit course on the Snowball Earth hypothesis
  • a 4-credit field-based course: 'Mid-Atlantic Field Geology for Educators'
  • a 4-credit field-based course: 'Regional Field Geology of the Northern Rockies'
Additional 'Regional Field Geology' courses are being planned for future years.

Additional comments

  • For our Physical Geology, Historical Geology, and Oceanography classes, we offer an honors option. Honors students participate in local field trips, attend local talks and seminars, and complete an independent research project. Typically, we get a dozen honors students each academic year.

Additional Materials

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