Initial Publication Date: July 2, 2015

Department of Geology, Bowdoin College

Information for this profile was provided in 2007. As of 2016, the Department of Geology at Bowdoin College is unavailable, for more information see The Department of Earth and Oceanographic Science

Druckenmiller Hall
Brunswick, Maine 04011-8468
(207) 725-3628


Faculty: 3 (4th authorized)
Graduates per year: undergrad - 5-10
Degrees Offered: B.A.
Requirement for Graduate Students to Teach?: Not Applicable
Institution Enrollment: 1625

Recruitment and Retention of Students

The department has begun to work directly with Admissions to help them highlight our teaching and research successes to attract new students. A recruiting poster colorfully demonstrates to prospective majors the wide range of traditional and non-traditional career opportunities available to geology graduates. The department offers three introductory courses (two cross listed with environmental studies) that fulfill the college's inquiry-in-natural-sciences requirement and also serve as a starting point for geology majors. Monthly geology lunches give majors and prospective majors an opportunity to meet and discuss research and careers in the geosciences.

Program Design

During the last decade we have had an intense focus on pedagogy. Adopting a field-based and inquiry-driven curriculum influenced most of the decisions we have had to make. The strong faculty and staff consensus behind this pedagogic focus allowed us to clearly state our needs both within and outside the college.

All three of the faculty have embraced a field-based, hands-on, inquiry-based approach to our teaching and have found differing ways to express our commitment. Peter Lea does community-based learning in which he involves his students in environmental/hydrogeological projects of community importance. He has adopted a vertically-integrated approach that involves selected junior high schools throughout the state in the discovery process. Rachel Beane has adopted an approach to bringing research into the classroom that uses the rocks of Casco Bay as her natural laboratory and which allows students to carryout their inquiry using state-of-the-art equipment such as a SEM/EDS/EBSD. Ed Laine uses service-learning as a method of connecting his students with community partners with environmental/oceanographic needs/problems in Casco Bay.

We believe that our success in transforming the department is due to adopting a curriculum that fosters problem-solving and inquiry. In addition, we know that our emphasis on training our students with state-of-the-art tools is a door opener. For example, students compose their resume around the projects they have worked on instead of the courses they have taken, citing or even including reports they have given to community partners, emphasizing skills they have acquired, and demonstrating their communicative abilities. Being able to talk about a student in these terms makes it very for us easy to write letters of recommendation or do phone interviews, even for first year students who have only completed an introductory course.

Research Experiences, Teaching Opportunities, and Internships for Undergraduate Students

We actively mentor research students during the semester and especially during the summer. Using a combination of grants and college funds we regularly have ten or more students in residence during the summer. Some are working on thesis work and others have just completed their first year and are learning the ropes. Grant funds have allowed a few students to have research assistant positions (5-10 hours/week) during the academic year. Students working on projects during the summer or academic year present their research during poster sessions at the college and are encouraged to submit their research for presentation at regional meetings.

Students are actively recruited to assist our faculty and laboratory instructors in the laboratory component of our three introductory courses. These teaching assistants work with students in the field and in the laboratory, often conduct office hours during the evening, volunteer to run review sessions before exams, and assist introductory students with their projects and posters.

Teaching Experiences and Training for Graduate Students

Not Applicable

Supporting Students' Professional Development: Mentoring, Career Advising and Others

Monthly geology lunches keep our students current on careers in geology. We are building a network of alums to keep our students up to date on the latest employment opportunities. Alums are invited back to campus to share their work and graduate school experiences with our majors and prospective majors. We facilitate a resume writing workshop in the fall. We take our students to regional geology conferences and meetings.

Developing and Maintaining a Healthy Faculty

Many of our students come to Bowdoin expressing a desire to be in the outdoors and learn about Maine. They also express a need to connect to the community and give service. Our curriculum allows them to do all these things and to reflect upon their experiences in an academic context.

As faculty, our curriculum allows us to do the same things. Every week we have many opportunities to continue to learn in an inquiry-based mode. We get out into the field and explore Maine and we connect to our community. Our emphasis on state-of-the art software and hardware makes us keep abreast of new developments and to successfully seek funding from NSF to implement these developments. Our emphasis on curriculum and pedagogy leads us to learn what others are doing outside the college. The college recognizes our efforts publicly and we work with faculty both inside and outside the institution to help them improve. Rachel Beane and Ed Laine were recently chosen as mentors for new faculty. Ed Laine consults throughout New England on service-learning for the Campus Compact.

Developing and Maintaining a Department Community that Supports Learning

Our emphasis on project work has led us to actively build and maintain community in our classrooms. When students feel safe in our classrooms they become more comfortable in their roles as active learners. When confronted with difficult or unfamiliar concepts they ask for help from each other and get explanations from their peers. Students serving as TAs in our introductory courses, departmental assistants, and students doing research projects have office space in the department. TAs often have office hours during the evening, volunteer to run review sessions before exams, and assist introductory students with their projects and posters. Giving our majors both space and responsibility is a signal to them the importance we place on intellectual endeavor, our recognition of their hard won academic achievements, and our value for them as individuals.

Department Involvement in the Institution

The department offers three introductory courses (two cross listed with environmental studies) that fulfill the college's inquiry-in-natural-sciences requirement. When a fourth faculty member is hired, an additional course will be offered to fulfill the requirement. Within the institution, the department is somewhat unusual in the high proportion of introductory courses offered per faculty member and that these introductory courses are designed to serve both majors and non-majors alike.

Rachel Beane's efforts have allowed the college to acquire an SEM/EDS/EBSD through a combination of NSF and college funding. This instrument package is managed as a shared facility used by the sciences, Classics (metallurgy of ancient coins), and Anthropology. Broad use of the facility throughout the college has led to technician support within the department and a comprehensive service contract supported by the college.

Participation in Interdisciplinary or Multidisciplinary Programs on Campus

In years past Peter Lea and Ed Laine have accepted significant administrative activities in areas important to the goals of the college. Peter was the first Director of the Coastal Studies Center and helped establish this facility as a show piece of multidisciplinary endeavor for the college. Ed Laine was Director of Environmental Studies (a coordinate major) for over a decade and helped build ES into a popular program that at times includes 15-20% of the majors on campus. Their efforts, like those of Rachel Beane with the SEM, have linked the department formally and informally with departments throughout campus, enriching and informing all in the process.