Initial Publication Date: November 26, 2007

Workshop Summary

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

Representatives from twenty-six geoscience departments met at Carleton College in April, 2007, to consider how geoscience departments can adapt as the field of geoscience changes. A full description of the workshop can be found on the workshop website. Keynote presentations focused on:

Keynote speakers and participants agreed that our science is heading toward
  • An increased emphasis on addressing societal Grand Challenges
    • Geoscientists will be involved in constraining likely scenarios for the future through an understanding of Earth history, the Earth system and modeling.
  • Understanding system behavior more completely, including
    • Geological-biological systems interactions,
      Earth and space systems interactions, and
      Models as drivers of data collection and research
  • Interdisciplinary interactions and cross-disciplinary synthesis
    • This will involve collaborations on campus and beyond.

Over the course of two days, participants developed a consensus about important elements for undergraduate geoscience programs:
  • Learning how to study the integrated Earth System
    • Using data, models, systems approach
    • Incorporating interdisciplinary teams and collaborations
  • Learning how geoscience contributes to solving grand societal challenges
    • Using problem based approaches in courses and undergraduate research
    • Understanding geoscience as a contributor, in the context of multidisciplinary approaches
  • Preparation for a rapidly changing discipline
    • Building strong foundational skills (there is not a strong consensus on what these are)
    • Developing students' abilities to use skills in a wide variety of problems/activities
    • Facilitating students' learning to learn

Additional implications for departments emerged:

  • It is increasingly important for departments to develop a breadth of expertise.
    • This can be accomplished via hiring, growing or collaborating. If it is to be accomplished via hiring, departments need to be careful to hire for future needs, rather than allowing the curriculum of the past to drive their future.
  • It is increasingly important for departments to be recognized as a player.
    • This is true both in terms of the contributions of geoscience to solving societal grand challenges and in terms of the place of geoscience departments on campus.
  • It is increasingly important for geoscience departments to foster collaborations.
    • These collaborations can be within the department, crossing subdisciplinary boundaries; they can be within the institution, crossing disciplinary boundaries; and they can be external to the institution.