Building Strong Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > SUNY Geneseo

SUNY Geneseo Department of Geological Sciences

by Amy Sheldon and Dori Farthing

SUNY Geneseo – Student Profile

SUNY Geneseo is a highly selective public liberal arts college in upstate New York. Roughly eighty-five percent of the entering students are in the top 20 percent of their high school class; the high school average of the entering class is 93 and the mean SAT score is over 1300. Thus, Geneseo, and the Geology Department, attracts students with outstanding credentials. Geneseo students are highly motivated and demand excellence in every facet of their college experiences.

Department of Geological Sciences - Strengths & Weaknesses

The Department of Geological Sciences at SUNY Geneseo consists of 6 faculty (3 tenured, 3 tenure-track), one department secretary, and roughly 50 undergraduate majors. The faculty's areas of expertise are diverse, including glacial geology and global climate change, geomorphology, mineralogy and petrology, hydrogeology, structural geology, and paleontology. The Department offers three general education courses specifically for non-science majors that serve roughly 600 students a year, in addition to introductory courses for majors that are open to non-majors (~75 seats, 2/3 filled with non-majors). We offer 10 upper-level elective courses (most offered on a 2-year rotating basis) that provide significant depth in a breadth of areas within the geosciences, and a capstone seminar course. In addition to the major in geology, the Department also offers majors in geochemistry and geophysics. Geology majors have the option of adding adolescent certification to their geology degree. The College is in the process of developing a new major in environmental science with tracks in biology, chemistry, geology and computational science. We are also in the process of creating a 5 year Masters program for adolescent certification in science.

Some of the strengths of the Geology program include:

  • a strong field component to the program by the integration of field trips in many required courses,
  • an extended field trip on alternate years that is the cornerstone of a year-long capstone seminar,
  • the opportunity for all majors to be teaching assistants in one or more introductory labs,
  • the opportunity for all majors to pursue research with a faculty member and present the results of their research to the department in a seminar, to the College at a campus-wide research symposium, and to the scientific community at regional and/or national conferences,
  • student attendance and participation at professional conferences,
  • developing students' professional presentation skills, and
  • new facilities, including classrooms and teaching instruments (microscopes, brunton compasses, wave tank, flume, etc.), research laboratories, and research equipment (XRD, XRF, SEM, ICs, GC, research scopes, etc.)

These academic and co-curricular activities and opportunities are augmented by what many consider to be the greatest strength of the department; the family-like atmosphere and genuine respect that exists amongst and between faculty and students. The rapport between faculty and students begins in the classroom, but is strengthened by frequent outside-the-classroom interactions that are academic and/or social in nature. The atmosphere in the geology quarters is quite similar to that at a graduate school – upper level students accept a great deal of responsibility for their own learning, they function well both independently and collaboratively, they are competitive but in a supportive manner, and they are very much aware of deadlines.

Some of the challenges the department faces include the lack of an instructional support specialist, the introduction of a rotating department Chair, attracting and retaining students from underrepresented groups, and developing a planning strategy for the next 5-yrs to decade. The department moved into a new facility with all new equipment in 2006. The lack of a support specialist means that valuable faculty time is used preparing, re-stocking, and maintaining laboratory exercises and equipment. After 16 years of continuous and reliable leadership, we have re-introduced a rotating position for the department chair. It would be advantageous for us to develop a system that would provide a smooth transition between chairs. Although the majors are 50-70% female, there are very few majors from other underrepresented groups. We would like to increase the number of majors from minority groups. We are also interested in developing some short and long-range departmental goals, which are expressed in the Department Planning section. In addition to these challenges, we seek additional assessment techniques to enhance our existing program (or program component) assessment methods.

Description of Department Planning Process

The department undergoes an internal and external program review every 5 years, with the next review anticipated for the 2010-2011 academic year. In addition to the routine issues involved in our program assessment, we would like to develop a planning strategy for the next decade. The College is facing substantial budget cuts and is asking for creative ideas to fill the budget gap in order to prevent the elimination of programs. We would like to develop cost-saving initiatives to meet and aid the mission of the College in this regard. Although the budget issues are likely to be long-term, the need for creative solutions is immediate. Another long-range planning goal will be the replacement of a senior faculty member upon his retirement. Although it may be many years before this event occurs, we want to stay abreast of trends while avoiding fleeting fads within the geosciences marketplace and identify the areas of expertise for a replacement faculty member that would best augment and compliment our existing program.

Summary of Most Recent Department Review

The last several department reviews were all very positive. The most recent review stressed the continued importance of the department being strategic in our course offerings and program options. This is an issue that has been and remains critical in our planning process. The only suggestions made were to consider hiring someone who specializes in the geology of lakes, and to hire a support specialist.