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Integrating Engineering Concepts to Introductory Geoscience Courses

Joel S Aquino, PhD, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of North Georgia (formerly Gainesville State College)

My approach in teaching the integration of geosciences and engineering stems from my mineral industry experience. Before I became an educator, I worked in the mining and mineral exploration industry for a decade. I was a part of a team that discovered the $13 billion Sepon Cu-Au mine in Laos and was intimately involved from grassroots exploration to bankable feasibility studies including global road show presentation aimed at raising project financing. As the senior geologist for the bankable feasibility stage, I had the opportunity to transition the project from a geologically-driven status to an engineering stage. This meant interfacing with different engineering aspects –with mining engineers in the design of 3D mining and ore reserve blocks, with metallurgical engineers in the optimization of the process design, with environmental engineers in the EIAs and remediation, with civil/geotechnical engineers in the mine and community infrastructures and with safety engineers as the project is uniquely situated in a high UXO (unexploded ordnance) contaminated area (Ho Chi Minh Trail).

As an economic/resource geologist by training, a good number of my lecture hours and lab activities are focused in the conceptual understanding of the formation of earth's resources (petroleum, mineral and water) and its exploitation and sustainability. I prep up the class by analyzing the components of their cell phones and making them aware of the ultimate source and amount of raw material mined to produce these components. Furthermore, the class is introduced to Nikolai Kardashev's 4 types of advanced civilizations and how each type exponentially differs from the source and collective means of harnessing their energy and mineral resources. Prof. Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future aptly gave specific examples of these types namely - Type I – planetary scale (ex. Buck Rogers), Type II – stellar scale (Star Trek w/out warp drive), Type III – galactic scale (Empire of Star Wars) and Type IV – extragalactic scale (Q entity of Star Trek). We are now at a critical transitory stage from Type 0 to Type I where our advances and global networking in software engineering, trading, travel and banking are still ironically powered by fossil fuels. Critical in the sense that we need to transition to other energy and mineral resources apart from the current fossil fuels and base metals that propelled us from pre-industrial to industrial and information ages. Critical in the sense that in spite these advances in technology, we are still separated by our political, religious and religious biases that can lead to total annihilation due to our nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Engineering solutions, sustainability and compassionate tolerance are the keys to this transition while we technologically prepare ourselves for interplanetary travel and resource exploitation. Otherwise, we, as a species, will suffer the fate of the Easter Island dwellers who suffer the "tragedy of the commons".

This industry experience heavily influences the way I run my introductory geology courses that focuses on exploratory labs first and a follow-up summary lecture later (FLIP classroom). These labs are focused on fundamental physics and chemistry concepts and its real world application in geosciences and engineering integration. This way, I emphasize more on the PROCESS OF SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION rather than the numerous geological terminologies that students barely remember after taking the course. A process-oriented lab is an enriching discovery experience for students that can be carried on in many other fields. I have created several labs that mimic each stage of exploration and can be a full-guided inquiry to a design lab that only involves a prompt question. It is in the design lab that I introduced the engineering concepts of flowcharts, timelines and cost analysis. Connecting these lessons to real-world experience gives it more meaning and incorporating design labs give the students a sense of ownership.

I have 5 major lab activities that integrate engineering (in particular mining and process
engineering) namely – Modeling, Uncertainty Calculations, Drilling Simulations, Mineral Separation with cost analysis and a Fieldtrip to a quarry and an underground mine

There are three main goals that I want to gain from this workshop – share, collaborate and disseminate. First, I would like to share the pedagogical skills that I developed in teaching geoscience/engineering integration with a strong emphasis on real-world applications coming from my years of experience in the mineral/exploration industry and teaching in 9-12 public education. Second, I would like to actively collaborate with and learn from my fellow educators the challenges they faced in teaching this multi-disciplinary integration to non-STEM majors and the teaching methods they employed in overcoming these obstacles. Part of this collaboration is to formulate and developed lesson plans and activities that uses engineering in geological exercises. This is then followed-up by designing an assessment tool to track down the success of such collaboration. Lastly, I would like then to disseminate and publish these newly developed teaching tools to other colleagues and possibly to 9-12 educators as well.

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