Building Strong Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > Towson University

Towson University Geosciences

by Rachel Burks and Jonathan Filer

Towson University's Geosciences program is small and teaches undergraduates only. We have four full time tenured faculty members, one of whom is serving as Acting Dean and can only provide limited teaching support. The full time faculty teach all of the upper division courses. Part-time faculty teach some of the introductory courses, but the full time faculty all teach them as well. Each of our faculty specifically sought a position in an undergraduate only department, and remains committed to undergraduate education. Our upper division courses typically have 20 students or less, and are mixture of geology, environmental science and studies, and earth and space science (mostly pre-service teachers) majors. Two of our faculty members also teach courses for a Master of Science in Environmental Science, and one of our faculty members directs that program.

Towson University is a suburban regional comprehensive institution, within the University System of Maryland, and is located in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Many of our geology and environmental science majors are employed either part time or full time with geotechnical companies, and the most common post graduate path for those majors is employment in that field. Some of our majors in recent years have gone on to graduate school to prepare for careers in academics and petroleum geology.

Because of interdisciplinary collaborations that have developed in recent years between faculty in geosciences, physics, chemistry and biology, Towson's Fisher College of Science and Mathematics has been able to win external funding to acquire state-of-the-art analytical equipment, including an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer and instruments for X-Ray Fluorescence, X-Ray Diffraction and fluid inclusion analyses. An external reviewer in 2007 noted that the amount of instrumentation available to the program is remarkable. Each geology major designs and completes a senior research project for one or more credits. Our students are very active in using this instrumentation both for their own independent research and in support of faculty research.

Towson expects tenure track and tenured faculty to maintain an active role in scholarship in their field and to make conference presentations and to publish in peer-reviewed journals. In recent years, our Geosciences program has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Petroleum Research Fund, and the Maryland Historical Trust. Our physical facilities for teaching are at best adequate; we have two teaching labs, one for upper division courses and another for lower division courses. A plan for renovation of our introductory lab into a more modern configuration has been approved and is currently scheduled to take place in the summer of 2010. Research space is sufficient and is either in individual labs or multi-disciplinary labs.

Our greatest need at this time is additional instructors and staff, as was noted by an external reviewer in 2007. We have effectively three faculty members to handle the Geosciences program and make a significant contribution to interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate Environmental Sciences programs. As a consequence, we teach most upper level courses every other year and offer very few electives. We have no laboratory manager so that task is shared among the faculty. The external review specifically noted the need for an additional faulty member and a full-time support person.