Supporting Minority Students at Western Kentucky University
Western Kentucky University
Western Kentucky University (WKU) is a public, comprehensive university of over 21,000 students. It is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and it is one of nine state-supported institutions in Kentucky's postsecondary system. The university was founded as a Normal school in 1906. Over time it evolved beyond its Teacher College roots to become, in 1966, a University with six distinct colleges. It is currently the largest four-year comprehensive university in Kentucky.
The Geology program at WKU is part of the Department of Geography and Geology and WKU's Ogden College of Science and Engineering. The Department is one of the oldest at WKU with roots traceable back to WKU's early Teacher College years. The department has always had a strong connection to the cave and karst landscape of south-central, KY, including Mammoth Cave National Park; the karst resources of the region have been a major attraction and an important focus of the department's activities and its educational programs.
The Department of Geography and Geology currently has 206 active majors among four programs: geography (61 majors), geology (63 majors), meteorology (70 majors) and geographic information systems (12 majors). The demographic make-up of the Department is similar to College of Science and Engineering; approximately two-thirds of the students are male and 80% of the students are white. These data differ from the University as a whole, which although predominantly white (79%), has more female undergraduate students (58%) than male students (42%).
Keys to Success
- The majority of students are attracted to the geology major through introductory courses, and the promise of field opportunities and gainful employment after graduation.
- The program faculty are all active and engaged advisors and the program is able to financially subsidize some field trips and conferences.
- Many majors are engaged in research; all majors must complete a capstone professional preparation course.
Attracting New Students
Most students that come to Western Kentucky University do not come to major in geology. Of the four programs in the Department of Geography and Geology, Meteorology has the most pre-declared majors (average 20 per year). The geology program gets most of its majors through its introductory courses, specifically, Geology 102 - Introduction to Geology (now cross-listed with Geography as "Our Dynamic Planet), Geology 111 - the Earth, and Geology 112 - Earth History. Students in these courses either have no major or they transfer in or switch majors, most often during the first semester of the junior year.
Geology at WKU has always had a number of students who come to the major because of the opportunity to study in the field. Students can take Geol. 380 - Introductory Field Techniques with only a pre- or co-requisite introductory geology course. The program also offers annual field courses to either the Bahamas and the Mojave Desert. The possibility of taking one of these courses is very attractive to students.
In recent years, new students are increasingly attracted to the Geology program because of the possibility of employment after graduation. South central Kentucky has rich oil and gas reserves that are increasingly being explored, and environmental and water resource issues are always at the fore because of the fragile cave and karst system of the region. Students are aware of these reserves and issues and the employment opportunities that they provide.
Supporting Our Majors
The geology program at WKU consists of 5 full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty, one full time instructor and two part-time instructors. All of the faculty and the full-time instructor share, fairly equitably, the advising load of the program. Faculty meet each semester with their advisees to review their program of study and to clear them to register for the following semester's classes. This frequent contact with students and the fact that most upper-level courses have twenty or fewer enrollees means that students get significant academic support as they work their way through the geology major.
Students are also beginning to get financial support from the program. A number of program graduates have been quite successful in the oil and gas industry and are beginning to provide financial support. Most of the financial contributions have been used to support field trips, trips to conferences (GSA, AAPG) and professional development workshops (e.g Midwest Petroleum Technology Transfer Council). The Department also generously supports field trips and conferences.
Preparing Students for Careers
Our students are being prepared for a wide range of geoscience-related opportunities - these opportunities depend in part on which program concentration they choose to focus on. The vast majority of our students pursue one of our two BS "professional geologist" concentrations. In the BS concentrations, students receive a core, standard education in geology with numerous opportunities for field and lab work and independent research. Although the math preparation of student's in our BS programs is lower than we would like, these students graduate as competent field geologists who are also proficient at analytical techniques in geology (including in some cases, instrumental techniques such as SEM, XRD and Raman Spectroscopy). All students across our programs have public speaking experience and are able, to varying degrees, to read and comprehend technical literature. We strive to produce independent thinkers and broadly-trained earth scientists.
All of our students take a capstone Professional Preparation course. In that pass/fail course, students prepare résumés and cover letters, develop a LinkedIn profile, give a professional presentation and interact with alumni and outside professionals brought in to help students transition from WKU to the broader world.
Currently, the majority of our program graduates are finding entry-level jobs in the energy and environmental sectors. Many students get mud-logging jobs after graduation; others get technician-level jobs in environmental consulting firms and state government. Although we have a BA concentration in Earth and Space Science, we have not produced many new Earth Science teachers. Most students, even in our BA concentrations, opt for more technical geology jobs.