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Workforce Preparation of Geology and Environmental Science Majors at a Large Urban University

Edmond van Hees, Wayne State University

Wayne State University is a large, multicultural, commuter university (29,000 students, 41% minorities, 10% in residence, respectively), located in mid-town Detroit, Michigan. The Geology Department was established in 1949 and has five full time and five part time Faculty and one staff member. We offer B.A., B.S. and M.S. degrees in Geology, a B.S. in Environmental Science since 2003, in collaboration with the Biology Department, and teach Introductory Physical Geology to ~1,000 students per year. Although the total number of majors in the Geology & Environmental Science programs has increased from 5 in 2001 to ~150 today, we remain a small department that offers its students individual attention and a sense of belonging to our close-knit academic community.

The Geology Department has a well-established track record of preparing undergraduate and graduate students for successful careers in the geosciences. In recent years, in addition to providing a strong core in classical Geology, we have responded to the increasing need to address environmental problems in urban areas by adopting an environmental focus / component to our teaching and research because that is where most of our graduates will be employed.

How Our Programs Prepare Students to become Geologists

We offer a rigorous traditional geology curriculum that includes core courses such as mineralogy & optical mineralogy, petrology, structural geology, sedimentology & stratigraphy, as well as more specialized offerings such as hydrogeology, nuclear geochemistry, GIS for Geologists, etc. Our programs attempt to develop a strong understanding of geology in our students by courses having specific, and sometimes multiple, prerequisites that we began to enforce this year, an environmental science component in most courses, and a mandatory fieldtrip as part of most undergraduate and some graduate geology courses. The four and five day fieldtrips take students to such places as Bancroft, Ontario (Mineralogy), St. Francois Mts., SE Missouri (Petrology), Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and the Carolinas (Structural Geology) and the Abitibi Greenstone Belt in Northern Ontario (Economic Geology). Day long trips take students to SE Ontario (Physical Geology), Cranbrook Science Museum, MI (Historical Geology), Grand Blanc, MI (Sedimentology), and Ann Arbor, MI (Hydrogeology).

The lab and field experiences are demanding and emphasize basic skills and practices. The fieldtrips provide an opportunity for students to: (1) bond and become a learning community; (2) make observations and maps in the field; (3) as well as collect sample(s) for course related projects (e.g. Pet Mineral and Pet Rock) that are undertaken by either an individual or a group. The Pet Mineral and Pet Rock projects permit students to utilize Optical Mineralogy skills learned in the lab to identify the minerals and rocks before studying their sample(s) using a Scanning Electron Microscope equipped with an Energy Dispersive System (SEM-EDS). These projects permit motivated students to take ownership of their individual or group project and delve deeply into the nature and origin of their sample.

The traditional field mapping course that is required to graduate from our B.S. Geology program is taken at one of a number of field camps run by other universities because our Geology department no longer offers it. Students must obtain approval for any field course that they wish to attend. A group of faculty with field experience review any new field camp selections to ensure that they meet both the student's needs as well as some 12 criteria (e.g. does the course have multiple instructors who are specialists for each of the up to 6 components that make up most field courses).

How Our Programs Prepare Students to be Environmental Scientists

Our B.S. in Environmental Science is offered in collaboration with the Biology Department since 2003. The Environmental Science major has a rigorous curriculum that includes five core Biology and five core Geology courses, as well as elective courses in Biology, Geology and Civil/Environmental Engineering that permit students to concentrate in either a Biology or Geology stream. New elective courses have been added and existing ones tailored to prepare students for entering the workforce. Specifically, Hydrogeology, Site Assessment, ArcGIS for Geology/Environmental Science, and a 40-hour Hazwoper Training course are available to both Environmental Science and Geology majors. The Hazwoper course provides students that take this course with a significant advantage over students from other institutions in that they can go directly to work for a company. The Hydrogeology and Site Assessment courses also have fieldtrips to relevant sites such as wastewater treatment plants, trash incinerators, and a groundwater contamination site.

Environmental Science majors are also required to complete a field course that is at least 2 weeks in length. The field course requirement can be satisfied by taking one of several Ecology courses, taught by Wayne State Faculty, that have an attached field component. The Ecology courses are in great demand by both the Environmental Science majors as well as regular Biology students.

Other Opportunities for Both Majors to Gain Experience

Our Environmental Science and Geology majors are also prepared to enter the workforce by working as members of research teams led by our faculty. One such research program that studied atmospheric pollution in the metro-Detroit and Windsor area employed some 20 students to deploy and retrieved atmospheric sampling equipment from 100 sampling sites across the study area. The results of this program were such that an Environmental Consulting Firm contracted the Faculty member in charge to carry out similar but smaller project for them. The experience our students gained working on these and other projects make their resumes stand out and provide the Faculty recommenders concrete talking points.

Students have also honed their interviewing skills by doing one-on-one interviews with representatives of several Environmental Consulting companies that were invited to come to campus and interview our students in 2011. The benefits of that effort led to me organizing an Environmental Science and Geology Career Fair in the fall of 2012. Students received detailed instructions on how to prepare for the Career Fair and were given the opportunity to participate in one of several Resume Writing Workshops that I organized. During the workshop, students received a Resume template that they used to create their own resume during the workshop. Lessons learned about organizing a Career Fair that will be used to improve the next Career Fair this November include such things as: inviting the Wayne State Career Services people to come and talk to students about the interview process and help them by conducting mock interviews; identifying second-hand clothing stores where financially challenged students can purchase clothing suitable for attending the Career Fair; and having students make business card and draft follow up letters to be sent to company representatives.

Areas In Which Our Alumni Are Employed

We have not tracked the outcomes of our graduates as closely as we would like because our department is small and does not have a full time office staff member who could be entrusted to take on the task of tracking our graduates. That said, many of the recent graduates from our undergraduate Geology and Environmental Science programs have entered the Environmental Consulting field in southeastern Michigan (5 returned to represent their companies at the Career Fair). Some of our graduates have also gone to work for the State of Michigan administering Environmental regulations, as well as domestic and international Petroleum and Mineral Exploration companies.

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