Building Strong Geoscience Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > Eastern Kentucky University

Eastern Kentucky University

by Walter S. Borowski and R. Thomas Lierman


Our department's survival depends on the throughput of graduating majors. Our struggle of late has been to attract sufficient majors to our program, and we have seen the number of majors rise slightly over the past two years but are not assured whether this rise will be sustained. So, our charge is to attract majors in a consistent fashion, but retain the advantages a small number of faculty (5 geoscientists) in keeping our classes smallish with one-on-one student-faculty interaction.

A small, close-knit department is our largest advantage, offering great learning possibilities in the classroom, in the field, and through independent research projects. We also have the advantage that many of our graduates do indeed go on to capture jobs in local and state government, in environmental firms, and in the petroleum industry (especially of late). Do to considerable local interest, we have just revitalized our interest in the latter by offering a course in Petroleum Geology and creating a co-op program with a local oil and gas company. The geosciences are also embracing the use of geographic information systems and we currently require our geology majors to take several courses in GIS, which of course is a very marketable skill. We have good facilities in terms of GIS offerings, and have several geography faculty skilled in its use.

Our weaknesses also abound. First and foremost, our department and college are resource starved. We desperately need a hydrologist/hydrogeologist, but have been unable to make this crucial hire because of the financial state of our department, university, and state. The number of our graduating majors are down, so we cannot convince the College and University to fund this crucial faculty line, but we are hampered in graduating more majors without a trained hydrologist/hydrogeologist. A classic problem. A lot of hiring occurs in local government and the environmental business that would provide jobs for our graduating majors.

Our faculty efforts are also somewhat diluted. Faculty must teach 2-4 general education courses per semester in order to keep our university numbers satisfactory, resulting in less time with our majors. Of course we use these introductory geology courses as a gateway into the major, but unfortunately our classroom audiences consists mainly of upperclassmen, who will not switch majors and who generally have little interest in geosciences; in fact, some are downright science-phobic and this negatively influences classroom atmosphere. Thus, the possibilities diminish for recruiting majors through these courses.

Finally, our geology curriculum is traditional. We teach classical geology with course classes in mineralogy, petrology, structure, sedimentation, and stratigraphy. This approach is generally fine, but the contents of the courses may not be effectively geared toward employment in the geosciences today. While some of graduates do go on to graduate school, our majors are interested mainly in getting jobs in industry or government. Thus, our curriculum must satisfy both groups. Also, we note that our graduates are not proficient in critical reading, writing, and presentation skills and we wish to remedy that by embedding pertinent exercises in all of core courses and electives that effectively build upon one another to produced skilled graduates. This Fall, we are re-programming our curriculum, so our learnings gained at this workshop will be most helpful.

Our University has a strategic planning system in which we participate, perhaps grudgingly. Our planning tasks have been useful in the fact that it "forces" faculty to brainstorm and construct strategies in bolstering our weaknesses, and also induces us to formally track the results of our initiatives. We know what initiatives have and haven't worked for us, but the overall process hasn't really worked for us. For example, the largest success of the planning process would be to justify and capture our hydrologist/hydrogeologist faculty line, and this has not happened. We will have a copy of our planning document on hand at the workshop.

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