Geology at Western Kentucky University: turning Earth Enthusiasts into Engaged Earth ScientistsFredrick Siewers, Geography and Geology, Western Kentucky University
Geology majors at Western Kentucky University (WKU) have a deep connection to the Earth, either through personal experience having grown up in a rural setting or by concerns for the environment and the increasingly fragile state of the planet. Students come into the major often to fulfill a science requirement through an introductory geology class only to find that the topics and concepts covered fascinate them more than their other classes. Students are often surprised at how 'hooked' they get on geology. Like many programs, WKU geology majors are a close-knit group, united by their love of the Earth and, surprisingly, the rigors of the curriculum.
The four geology concentrations at WKU (two BS, two BA) explicitly cater to students' connection to the Earth and their fascination with Earth materials, fossils, and Earth resources. Through early exposure to field geology and analytical techniques, students quickly move beyond being earth enthusiasts to budding earth scientists eager to learn about the breadth of geology and its relevance to societal concerns and their lives after graduation. In addition to the foundational courses found in most geology programs (mineralogy, petrology, sedimentology/ stratigraphy, etc), Geology at WKU prides itself on advanced special topics courses that range from Basin Analysis to Optical Mineralogy, field experiences in the Bahamas and Mojave Desert, and research opportunities with all program faculty. The program's close association with WKU's Advanced Materials Institute gives students hands-on experience with a wide range of analytical instrumentation. It is through these experiences and majors-level courses that students connect their learning to broader issues in the geosciences and future employment opportunities.
The geology program at WKU has approximately 70 majors; over 50% are first-generation college students. These students are academically supported by engaged advising involving all program faculty throughout their entire college career. Students are provided with opportunities to attend professional conferences, go on field trips, and interact with practicing professionals thanks, in part, to gifts and financial support from program alumni. All program majors take a capstone Professional Preparation course (Geol. 499) where they develop a résumé and cover letter, give a professional presentation, and interact with alumni and practicing professionals who gladly visit the Department.
The program is proud of its graduates, most of whom find gainful employment at the bachelors level. The program is also proud of those students who have gone on to Master's and PhD-level graduate programs. These students are making a difference and have turned their enthusiasm for the Earth into substantive contributions to geology and society.