Building Strong Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > Northern Virginia Community College

Geology Department, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus

by Callan Bentley


Counting by number of student credit hours taken, Northern Virginia Community College ('NOVA') is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. NOVA is a multi‐campus institution, with five 'main' campuses that offer the full range of coursework (Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, and Woodbridge), plus a campus dedicated to medical education, and two 'centers' offering classes in high‐population areas (Arlington, Reston). The College also offers a series of online courses through its Extended Learning Institute. Students pursue Associates Degrees, Certificate programs, workforce skills, and pre‐requisites for transfer into universities.

Of NOVA's campuses, the Annandale campus is the largest. The geology department here is part of the Math, Science, and Engineering Division, the largest of the four divisions on campus. The geology department is relatively small; It consists of two full‐time faculty, plus four to five adjunct instructors per semester. Each semester we offer approximately eight sections of traditional four‐credit introductory‐level geology courses, plus three sections of one‐credit Field Studies courses.


The NOVA‐Annandale Geology department is fortunate to find ourselves in a well‐funded institution, in a well‐equipped facility, within an easy drive of a diverse suite of natural outcrops of rock spanning half a billion years of geologic time. The full‐time instructors have a dedication to providing field experiences for the students; the vast majority of students react enthusiastically to these experiences.

The populated DC‐metropolitan area provides a relatively robust pool of adjunct faculty, meaning that we are able to offer more sections than a comparative institution located far from urban population centers. Additionally, our metro‐area location provides plenty of opportunities for student (and faculty) engagement in seminars, lectures, museum exhibits, and field trips led by other institutions, such as the Geological Society of Washington.

We also get strong administrative support for new initiatives, such as our diverse suite of summer course offerings, travel to conferences, grant applications, and Honors programs. For instance, last summer, we got eight field‐trip leading faculty trained in Wilderness First Aid, thanks to a grant from the Virginia Community College System and support from our division dean.

We have a strong record of "generating" geology majors for our neighbor, George Mason University. Administrative links between NOVA and GMU remain strong, and students find the transfer process relatively seamless as a result.


Our faculty lack ethnic diversity, being predominantly white. Like much of the geoscience workforce, we have more males than females. In the current academic semester, two of our five adjunct instructors were female. Both full‐time faculty are white males.

Like any institution with adjunct instructors, we have found that teaching is as much a labor of love, as a job. Adjuncts are paid very little for their work. Some may take this as a signal to be less than fully engaged, while others ignore the meager pay as incidental to their profound interest in their work. To our knowledge, only one adjunct instructor (out of four) leads any field trips.

Planning process and departmental review

NOVA‐Annandale Geology has neither a formalized planning process, nor have we undergone a departmental review in more than a decade (when the program was quite different). Our participation in the SERC workshop is likely to be foundational in framing a coherent strategy for future self‐assessment and organization.