Geology and Environmental Science, Wheaton College

Information for this profile was provided by Stephen Moshier in 2009. Information is also available on the program website.

Jump down to Overview and Context | Program Design | Goals and Assessment | Courses and Sequencing | Additional Materials

Overview and Context

Illustration of the Wheaton geology and environmental science curriculum, constructed by Monica Bruckner, based on information provided by Stephen Moshier. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Our BS in Geology (36 credits in geology plus 12 credits in chemistry, physics and math) is offered in the context of a liberal arts education, including 42-46 credits in general education (some competencies in Foreign Language, Biblical Studies, Quantitative Skills, Oral Communication, and Writing can be met by examination. In addition to the BS (36 credits plus 16 cognate science and math) we offer a BA (32 credits plus 12 cognate science and math), minor (20 credits in geology) and Secondary Teacher Certification in Earth and Space Science (variety of science, math and education courses).

Program Design

Our program is not tracked so that there are few prerequisites for any of the advanced geology core courses beyond Physical Geology. The reason is that we offer most courses alternate years and many of our majors do not start in geology until their sophomore year.

Goals and Assessment

General Goals

Graduates of our department with a BS in Geology should be:
  • familiar with terms and tools for the description of geological materials and the gross structure of the earth,
  • familiar with basic knowledge of subsurface and surface geologic processes that form rocks and shape the landscape,
  • understand human actions that promote environmental stability or lead to environmental degradation (i.e., earth systems role in pollution, climate change and natural hazards),
  • able to apply geological knowledge in order to meet human needs and improve environmental conditions (i.e., water, mineral and energy resource discovery and management, natural hazard assessment and mitigation, sustainable development),
  • prepared for graduate studies in earth or environmental sciences or entry level employment in related fields including resource development, environmental management and missions/development,
  • prepared to join the community of earth and environmental scientists, practicing with professional and personal integrity,
  • grounded in good scientific and theological training so as to be able to contribute to constructive dialog on faith and science issues in Church and secular communities.


  1. Analytical- Geology majors should be competent in methods for the collection and processing of scientific (geologic) data.
  2. Communications- Geology majors should be able to effectively communicate the technical details and significance of geological studies. Competency should be demonstrated for 1) oral as well as 2) written communication.
  3. Integration-Synthesis- Geology majors should be able to integrate various forms of knowledge and synthesize these in the solution of problems. In the more scientific sense, 1) technical modeling and mapping skills are essential attributes. In the more value-oriented sense, majors need to 2) devise theological/ethical evaluations.

Comprehensions (including terminology and working concepts)

  1. Geological Materials- Geology majors should have a basic understanding of the origin and utility of minerals, rocks, soil and other non-biological earth materials/resources.
  2. Geological Time- Geology majors should be familiar with the concept of geologic time, its subdivisions, measurement, and the overall progression of events in earth history.
  3. Earth Processes- Geology majors should be familiar with the important processes, both 1) physical/mechanical and 2) chemical, that constitute Earth's main lithospheric and hydrologic systems.
  4. Operational Paradigm- Geology majors should be familiar with the basic concept, historical development, and implications of plate tectonics in all subdisciplines of geology.
  5. Regional Geology- Geology majors should understand the fundamental reconstruction of historical geology for the USA, with particular detail for the midcontinent and Black Hills of South Dakota (by virtue of the summer field course there).

Outline of Assessment Strategy

  1. Learning objectives are tied to (explained in the context of) the college's mission statement.
  2. The basic assessment philosophy is to collect key information from assessment instruments each year and use for program evaluation (of effectiveness, need for changes, etc.)
  3. Specific objectives are assessed for the majors' curriculum via certain classes and certain instruments. In particular the required courses, GEOL 433 (Structural Geology, GEOL 494 (Senior Capstone Seminar) and GEOL 412 (Field Geology) provide critical measures for evaluation.
  4. Information collected each year from the assessment instruments is interpreted and forms part of the consideration for changes in the department curriculum and culture.
  5. General Education assessment in Geology is one component of the larger strategy practiced for the Natural Sciences as a division. The use of specific instruments is portrayed through use of the matrix charting 200- or 300-level gen. ed. class versus its mode of evaluating particular objectives (as specified for the entire division and tied to the college's intention for general education).

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

  • Physical Geology or Physical Geology for Science Majors or GEOL 201. Introductory Geology in the Field (offered only at the Wheaton College Science Station)

Core courses

  • Physical Geology or Physical Geology for Science Majors or GEOL 201. Introductory Geology in the Field
  • Earth History and Stratigraphy
  • Process Geomorphology
  • Fundamentals of Geochemistry (substitute from electives if not offered)
  • Fundamentals of Mineral Science
  • General Petrology and Petrography
  • Structural Geology
  • Field Geology (summer field course offered at Wheaton College Science Station or other program)


Students must take 4 credits (1 or 2 courses) in geology electives. Geology electives are selected from the following courses:

  • Quantitative Methods
  • Global Climate Change, Past, Present and Future (Prerequisite: Physical Geology or Introduction to Environmental Science)
  • Studies in Regional Geology (Spring Break or Summer term)
  • Introduction to Soil Science
  • Physics of the Earth (Prerequisites: Physics I or II)
  • Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
  • GIS Practicum
  • Biogeology (Prerequisites: Earth History and Stratigraphy or Biology I)
  • Topics in Earth Science (for example: Petroleum Geology or Coastal Processes)
  • Appropriate Technology, Development and the Environment
  • Rocky Mountain Regional Geology (at Wheaton College Science Station, concurrent with Field Geology)
  • Hydrogeology (Prerequisite: Physical Geology)


  • Senior Seminar Capstone

Other required courses

  • General Chemistry I
  • Classical (or General) Physics I
  • Chemistry II or Classical (or General) Physics II
  • Applied Calculus or Calculus I (Calculus II also recommended)

Additional Materials

Wheaton College Geology senior capstone seminar assessment (Acrobat (PDF) 295kB Feb12 09)