Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2015

Case Studies: Geoscience Departments in Flux

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, "Nothing endures but change." In these changing times, geoscience departments that want to thrive change too. Each of the departments profiled below has made significant changes over time. Some were responding to a direct threat of elimination; others saw an opportunity and grabbed it. In every case, the departments found ways to increase their perceived value to their host institutions.

Bowdoin College

In process of preparing for an external review in 2009, the Bowdoin Geology Department recognized an opportunity to redefine themselves. As the review approached, the department set aside time for reflection and strategic planning. The results include a curriculum focused on earth systems thinking and authentic research and a name change for the department. The faculty doubled in size (during the recession) and the number of majors has skyrocketed.

Queens College, CUNY

In the late 1990's, recognizing a strong desire among students to study environmental science and related social issues, the Geology Department at Queens College, CUNY, chose to restructure and redefine their programs, taking advantage of student interest and administrative support. As a result of the changes they've made, enrollments have grown significantly and the School has forged alliances with environmentally-oriented faculty members in more than a dozen departments on campus, as well as with city, state, and federal agencies and some NGOs.

Rutgers University, Newark

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) at Rutgers University, Newark, focuses on applied earth sciences, primarily serving students who want to pursue careers in the growing environmental consulting sector in New Jersey. This focus is a strategic choice, taking advantage of the department's location in one of the most polluted regions of the U.S. When it had a more traditional focus, the department struggled for survival; once they redefined themselves, they began to thrive.

University of Florida

The Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida was nearly eliminated for budget reasons in 2009, in spite of an excellent external review in 2006. The department's response to the proposed changes was immediate and broad-based, including faculty, colleagues, students, and alumni. Here are the strategies they think have been most effective, including a list of the metrics they collected to help make their case to the university administration.

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the Geology, Geography, and Atmospheric Sciences departments banded together in 2007 to form the School of Earth, Society, and Environment. Here's the background on how and why the School was founded, and how it provided an opportunity to attract a totally new cadre of students, without weakening any of the existing majors. Instead, the proactive approach of building alliances and new majors has led to remarkable growth.