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Using hazards to engage students

Eric Baer, Geosciences, Highline Community College

Highline Community College is located in the Puget Sound region and therefore our students live with multiple geologic hazards including earthquakes, mass movements, volcanic activity and flooding. In order to engage students in the geoscienceses, we offer a geologic hazards course that focuses on risk associated with living in the Puget Sound region. Despite its reputation for rigor, students at Highline Community College choose the hazards course 3 to 1 over the more traditional Physical Geology course. Students also recommend the course because of the impact of the capstone project/paper in which students analyze their risk for relevant geologic hazards for the Puget Sound region. Students leave the course with a deep understanding of the geologic risk under which they live, and appropriate strategies for mitigating that risk. These students report communicating with their families, workplaces and community groups, their new-found discoveries, effectively disseminating cutting-edge geologic hazard research and further informing others on how to mitigate risk. The course produces some of the most geologically well-informed citizens in the Pacific Northwest because the students rely on primary research products (such as hazard maps and professional papers). This community-based local risk education program is ideal for community colleges or universities that draw primarily from local populations in areas with significant geologic risk. Because of the regional nature of community college populations, it might be difficult to mimic this experience at a four-year institution with students who will scatter after graduation. We also hope that there is a community impact from these students leading to greater awareness, preparation and lower vulnerability to natural disasters.

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