Workshop Overview

Connecting Geoscience Departments to the Future of Science: New Structures for Research and Curriculum

This workshop aimed to identify major themes that will be essential to geoscience departments over the next 25 years, to consider how departments are currently addressing these themes, and to envision how we might address them in the future. Themes might include the increasing need to integrate geoscience and life science to understand the Earth system, the role of dynamic complex system analysis in our discipline, the nature of quantitative skills required of a geoscience professional, and the changing dynamics of international research and education.

Recognizing the diversity of missions among geoscience departments, we seek to understand how these themes affect departments of different kinds and the commonalities among all departments.

The program combined presentations by participants, small and whole group discussion, and working time to address the following questions.

  • What are the major themes that are central to geoscience in the next 25 years?
  • What are the key elements of curricula that will prepare geoscience students for the future we envision?
  • What are the ways in which departments can support the participation of students and faculty in the forefront of research in the future?
  • What are the key characteristics of geoscience departments, programs, and personnel that will best position us for this future?
  • What is our identity as geoscience departments? What will be the challenges and opportunities related to maintaining this identity? What are the ways in which departments can more effectively connect with other entities on campus?
  • What are existing models that appear to be working in different contexts?
  • How do we build interdisciplinarity?
  • What are strategies for assessment and evaluation that will demonstrate what is successful and provide direction for the future?

Workshop Outcomes

In addition to promoting communication and exchange of information across participating insitutions, the workshop will produce these specific outcomes:
  • A collection of webpages describing current missions, approaches, and their evaluation.
  • A vision document describing the major themes and strategies identified by workshop participants.
  • A collection of resources that can be used by departments to support interdisciplinary hiring, evaluation, and cross-campus collaboration.
  • A plan for follow on activities that will disseminate workshop results and lead to sustained discussion among departments of workshop topics.


The workshop began on Wednesday afternoon, April 25, at 5:00 and ended at 3:00 pm on Friday, April 27. Participants were required to attend all sessions.


Participants were expected to:

  • develop a webpage for the departments website about their department (this will involve filling out a form and editing the resulting webpage using the SERC authoring tools).
  • contribute to on-line collections of resources for the Building Strong Departments website.
  • prepare in advance for workshop discussions via readings, writings, discussion or other activities developed by workshop leaders.
  • participate fully in the entire workshop.
  • participate in follow-on activities disseminating the workshop results and maintaining ongoing discussion of workshop topics.


The operational costs of the workshop as well as room, board, and workshop materials were covered by a grant from the NSF Division of Earth Sciences (EAR-0614926). Participants or their home institutions provided transportation to and from the workshop.

Application and Selection Criteria

The workshop size was limited to 30 participants. The final list of participants was established with the goal of assembling a group with expertise in developing forward-looking geoscience departments as well as a commitment to participation in follow-on activities. Participants were selected to obtain a balance of research universities, liberal arts colleges, and regional comprehensive universities as well as a breadth of departmental missions. Applicants were notified of selection in early February.


The workshop was held at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Participants were housed in a hotel and ate meals on campus and in the town.