Building Strong Geoscience Departments > Meeting Sessions > Building Geoscience Departments for the Future

Fall, 2007 AGU session: Building Geoscience Departments for the Future

The following abstracts are from presentations given in session ED34A at the fall, 2007 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Session Description:

The geosciences are facing a new future: global change and sustainability are becoming central in public discussions and policy debates. Our science is becoming increasingly sophisticated in the use of systems based predictive models at the same time that we are understanding the importance of biologic components of the Earth system and the critical information that is available in the planetary system. Our students are entering a global workforce that is shifting rapidly in its needs. This session showcased the ways in which geoscience departments are changing their programs, courses and other activities to meet this new future.

Learning from One Another: On-line Resources for Geoscience Departments (PowerPoint 545kB Nov30 07)

Manduca, C, Macdonald, H, Feiss, G, Richardson, R, Ormand, C, (2007). Learning from One Another: On-line Resources for Geoscience Departments. Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-01.

Geoscience departments are facing times of great change, bringing both opportunity and challenge. While each department is unique with its own mission, institutional setting, strengths and assets, they share much in common and are all much better positioned to maximize gains and minimize losses if they are well informed of the experiences of other geoscience departments. To this end, over the past four years the Building Strong Geoscience Departments project has offered workshops and sessions at professional society meetings to foster sharing and discussion among geoscience departments in the United States and Canada. Topics that have sparked extended discussion include: Where are the geosciences headed from the standpoints of scientific research and employment? How are departments responding to new interdisciplinary opportunities in research and teaching? What are the threats and opportunities facing geoscience departments nationwide? How are departments recruiting students and faculty? What do geoscience department programs look like both from the standpoint of curriculum and activities beyond the curriculum? How do geoscience programs prepare students for professional careers? What makes a department strong in the eyes of the faculty or the eyes of the institution? This rich discussion has included voices from community colleges, four year colleges and universities, comprehensive and research universities, and minority serving institutions. Participants agree that these discussions have helped them in thinking strategically about their own departments, have provided valuable ideas and resources, and have lead to changes in their program and activities. A central aspect of the project has been the development of a website that captures the information shared at these meetings and provides resources that support departments in exploring these topics. The website ( is a community resource and all departments are invited to both learn from and contribute to its collections.

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The Next Great Science

Hodges, K V, (2007) The Next Great Science. Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-02.

Earth science --- when defined as the study of all biological, chemical, and physical processes that interact to define the behavior of the Earth system --- has direct societal relevance equal to or greater than that any other branch of science. However, "geology", "geoscience", and "Earth science" departments are contracting at many universities and even disappearing at some. This irony speaks volumes about the limitations of the traditional university structure that partitions educational and research programs into specific disciplines, each housed in its own department. Programs that transcend disciplinary boundaries are difficult to fit into the traditional structure and are thus highly vulnerable to threats such as chronic underfunding by university administrations, low enrollments in more advanced subjects, and being largely forgotten during capital campaigns. Dramatic improvements in this situation will require a different way of thinking about earth science programs by university administrations. As Earth scientists, our goal must not be to protect "traditional" geology departments, but rather to achieve a sustainable programmatic future for broader academic programs that focus on Earth evolution from past, present, and future perspectives. The first step toward meeting this goal must be to promote a more holistic definition of Earth science that includes modes of inquiry more commonly found in engineering and social science departments. We must think of Earth science as a meta-discipline that includes core components of physics, geology, chemistry, biology, and the emerging science of complexity. We must recognize that new technologies play an increasingly important role in our ability to monitor global environmental change, and thus our educational programs must include basic training in the modes of analysis employed by engineers as well as those employed by scientists. One of the most important lessons we can learn from the engineering community is the value of systems-level thinking, and it makes good sense to make this the essential mantra of Earth science undergraduate and graduate programs of the future. We must emphasize that Earth science plays a central role in understanding processes that have shaped our planet since the origin of our species, processes that have thus influenced the rise and fall of human societies. By studying the co-evolution of Earth and human societies, we lay a critical part of the foundation for future environmental policymaking. If we can make this point persuasively, Earth science might just be the "next great science".

Closing the Geoscience Talent Gap

Keane, C M, (2007) Closing the Geoscience Talent Gap. Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-03.

The geosciences, like most technical professions, are facing a critical talent gap into the future, with too few new students entering the profession and too many opportunities for that supply. This situation has evolved as a result of multiple forces, including increased commodity prices, greater strain on water resources, development encroachment on hazardous terrain, and the attrition of Baby Boomers from the workforce. Demand is not the only issue at hand, the legacy of lagging supplies of new students and consequently new professionals has enhanced the problem. The supply issue is a result of the fallout from the 1986 oil bust and the unsubstantiated hopes for an environmental boom in the 1990"s, coupled by the lengthening of academic careers, indefinitely delaying the predicted exodus of faculty. All of these issues are evident in the data collected by AGI, its Member Societies, and the federal government. Two new factors are beginning to play an increased role in the success or failure of geosciences programs: namely student attitudes towards careers and the ability for departments to successfully bridge the demands of the incoming student with the requirements for an individual to succeed in the profession. An issue often lost for geosciences departments is that 95% of geoscientists in the United States work in the private sector or for government agencies, and that those employers drive the profession forward in the long term. Departments that manage to balance the student needs with an end source of gainful employment are witnessing great success and growth. Currently, programs with strong roots in mining, petroleum, and groundwater hydrology are booming, as are graduate programs with strong technology components. The challenge is recognizing the booms, busts, and long-term trends and positioning programs to weather the changes yet retain the core of their program. This level of planning coupled with a profession-wide effort to improve initial recruitment, greater throughput of graduates into the profession, and the development of professionalism for majors will be central to the geosciences future success.

One Employer's Viewpoint: What Does Our Future Geoscience Workforce Need to Do and Why Will Workforce Diversity Be Key?

Loudin, M G, Summa, L L, (2007) One Employer's Viewpoint: What Does Our Future Geoscience Workforce Need to Do and Why Will Workforce Diversity Be Key? Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-04.

Global economic growth will continue to result in rising demand for energy, with estimates of 50 percent growth in the world's energy usage by 2030 being commonplace. This challenge to energy producers is compounded by the natural production declines associated with existing oil and gas fields, and so the demands on our future workforce will be extraordinary. There is little doubt that the oil and gas resources we will be utilizing in the future will come from different geographies, will be sourced from different geological systems, and will be the result of using different, more complex technological approaches. Relative growth in production outside of North America and Europe means that there will generally be a premium on students from outside these areas. It also means that an even greater appreciation of non-Western cultures is in order, for employers, faculties, and students. We are already seeing a significant shift in the geological systems that host our resources and this shift is likely permanent. Carbonate systems have become much more important, as have structurally complex terranes, but these changes pale in comparison to an increasing reliance on low permeability, resource-bearing rocks that were not even considered as potential reservoirs 10 years ago. There will doubtless be new tools and measurements which will help us succeed in this new environment, but the most valuable approaches will involve bold, integrated, systemic hypotheses at basinal and planetary scales. The recent publication of global controls on carbonate rock formation represents an early example of such an approach. To generate bold new hypotheses, it is crucial that the scientific community not engage in "groupthink." We think that organizations that promote diversity in ideas and approaches will benefit most, and a diverse workforce is the best guarantor of diverse ideas. Against this background, energy and mineral companies are facing enormous changes in their workforces as the baby-boomer generation gives way to Generations X and Y. This certainly presents challenges to our ability to recruit and develop new talent, but it also presents unprecedented opportunities to increase workforce diversity. Using a global approach to hiring Geoscientists, we are making significant progress in achieving greater diversity with respect to gender, under-represented groups, cultural origins, and skills. Nevertheless, given the enormity of the task, we are intensely interested in a dialogue with academia on ways to increase students' diversity as well as their abilities to conceive the bold, integrated, systemic hypotheses that we will need to keep pace with global energy demand.

Report on the Special JGE issue on Strengthening Diversity in the Geosciences (Acrobat (PDF) 2.5MB Mar3 08)

Alexander, C J, Riggs, E, (2007) Report on the Special JGE issue on Strengthening Diversity in the Geosciences. Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-05.

The fall meeting 2004 saw an unprecedented number of papers directed at the subject of enhancing racial diversity in the geosciences. That followed on the heels of an unprecedented number of papers at the AMS meeting that same year. NSF, AGU, and NAGT recognized that, after decades of dedicated effort in the field with only modest results, the time was ripe for a compendium of those best and not so successful practices to be published, targeted to the community of scientists concerned, as well as program managers, and heads/chairs of geoscience departments throughout the county. Thus an unlikely collaboration was spawned, and a special issue of the Journal of Geoscience Education (JGE) was initiated, jointly published by the AGU and the NAGT, sponsored by NSF. The issue is called Enhancing Diversity in Geoscience Education, and will be published late in 2007. Major findings of this Volume include the following: *The Earth and space sciences have the lowest participation rate of underrepresented minorities compared with all other physical sciences [e.g., NSF Publication 04-317, 2004]. Only 1-2% of the undergraduate student population enrolled in geoscience degree programs is African-American or Hispanic and only 1% of the PhDs produced in these disciplines in recent years have gone to minorities [R. Czujko (AIP), 2005]; *There are huge regional dichotomies in minority population, and geoscience specialization. An educational and recruitment approach that focuses on those aspects of the geosciences most relevant to audiences in their area and most appropriate to the expertise of the scientists involved, can have high efficacy; *The most successful programs take pains to account for culturally-specific learning styles, cultural issues with pedagogy, and community preferences and priorities; *Top-down efforts to increase diversity on the part of science / funding agencies and Universities, while a necessary component to any successful program, are not sufficient to ensure success. The strongest programs enjoy a local synergy of grassroots, personal commitment from individual scientists, and the vision and high-level support of the institutions and agencies in which they work. Robust mentoring can be an important component of such a program. The issue, edited by Alexander and Riggs, will have a run of 5000, and will be gratis to all geoscience department heads/chairs, NASA, NOAA, and NSF program managers.

Are Geoscience Majors Well Prepared for the Science and Engineering Workforce?

Czujko, R, (2007) Are Geoscience Majors Well Prepared for the Science and Engineering Workforce? Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-06.

This paper provides current statistics as well as historical trends in degree production at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in solid earth sciences, atmospheric sciences, oceanography, and related disciplines. It describes the strengths and weakness of the job market in the geosciences. It includes compensation data for recent geoscience graduates at all degree levels. It discusses international competitiveness and projections of future demand for scientists and engineers. The paper looks at the efforts at the national level to increase degree production in science and engineering. It concludes with some advice to departments about how to assess the extent to which their students are ready for the demands of a changing economy.

What Opportunities, When?: A Framework for Student Career Development

Macdonald, H, (2007) What Opportunities, When?: A Framework for Student Career Development. Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-07.

Geoscience faculty and departments have an important role to play in the professional development of their students for careers in the geosciences or other fields. We can promote career development of students at different career stages (e.g., first year students, geoscience majors, and graduate students) and in various ways by 1) providing information about jobs and careers, 2) encouraging exploration of options, 3) providing experiences throughout their program that develop skills, knowledge, and attitudes, and 4) supporting students in their job search. For example, in teaching general education classes, we can provide information about jobs and careers in the geosciences, showing images of specific geoscientists and discussing what they do, providing examples of practical applications of course content, and describing job prospects and potential salaries. For majors, this type of information could be presented by seminar speakers, through career panels, and via alumni newsletters. Exploration of options could include research and/or teaching experiences, internships, informational interviews, and involvement with a campus career services center. Courses throughout the curriculum as well as co-curricular experiences serve to provide experiences that develop skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will be useful for a range of jobs. Departments can support the job search by providing networking opportunities for students and alumni, widely distributing job announcements and encouraging individual students, offering departmental sessions on graduate school, different career options, and /or the job search process, conducting mock interviews and resume review sessions, and fostering connections between students and alumni. In all of this, we need to be supportive of student choices. Overall, faculty can help students make more informed career decisions and develop skills that will be of value in their career through a variety of strategies, work with students as an advisor or mentor to help them explore career options, and collaborate with the career service center on campus.

Revitalizing Physics Departments: The Spin-UP Reports

Hehn, J G, Czujko, R, Hilborn, R, (2007) Revitalizing Physics Departments: The Spin-UP Reports. Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract ED34A-08.

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has carefully measured education trends in the physics and related sciences community for nearly five decades. During the 1990s, the community realized that the number of undergraduate physics majors was declining significantly. A number of efforts were launched in the physics community intending to reverse that decline and the number of bachelor's degrees has been rebounding for the last 7 years. The National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics (NTFUP) was one such effort that identified thriving physics departments and analyzed strategies shared among those departments. In 2003 NTFUP issued a report entitled: Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics, referred to as Spin-UP. A subsequent study of physics programs in two-year colleges, Spin-UP TYC, produced many similar findings published in 2005. Lessons learned as stated in the Spin-UP reports and several conferences will be reviewed.

Some lessons learned include: A thriving department demonstrated (1) a widespread attitude among the faculty that the department has the primary responsibility for maintaining or improving the undergraduate program; (2) a challenging, but supportive and encouraging undergraduate program that includes a well-developed curriculum, advising and mentoring, an undergraduate research participation program, and many opportunities for informal student-faculty interactions, enhanced by a strong sense of community among the students and faculty; (3) strong and sustained leadership within the department and a clear sense of the mission of its undergraduate program; and (4) a strong disposition toward continuous evaluation of and experimentation with the undergraduate program. In short, thriving departments paid attention to undergraduates and made majors feel like members of their physics department and members of a physics community.

SPIN-UP final report

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