Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2007

2005 Workshop Summary

Developing Pathways to Strong Departments for the Future

The strength of Geoscience departments and their programs lies at the heart of developing a strong geoscience workforce capable of meeting the wide variety of challenges facing our society. In February 2005, 28 geoscience faculty, department chairs, and senior administrators from Ph.D. granting institutions, comprehensive and regional institutions, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges met to share information on strategies that had strengthened their own departments and to brainstorm ideas for collective action that would strengthen departments across the United States. Participants in the NSF funded workshop recognized that these are challenging times for geoscience departments and that a number of departments have been closed or are facing reorganization. However, they concluded that departments across the full spectrum of institutional types have more in common than was previously realized and that there are many best practices and successful innovations for meeting challenges that departments can learn from one another. The ability to work collectively as a disciplinary group was viewed as critical to creating the compelling arguments needed for administrators, policy makers and the public to understand the importance of geoscience.

Workshop Discussion

In preparation for the workshop, participants submitted essays describing their departments and the ways in which they have met challenges and opportunities.

Workshop discussion focused on:

A number of key overarching themes identified at the workshop are seen as critical factors in building strong departments.

  • Defining the mission of the department in such a way that it is aligned with the institutional vision.
  • Taking a proactive stance in building modern and dynamic geoscience curricula and, as appropriate, research agendas.
  • Working effectively as a department team.
  • Acknowledging that recruitment, development, and retention of students, faculty, and staff are key elements of departmental success.
  • Developing strong departmental leaders now and for the future.
  • Communicating success, using effective metrics, to colleagues, senior administrators, students, donors, and friends.
  • Forging strategic partnerships within the university (e.g., with biosciences, engineering, environmental studies, or geography) and outside the university (e.g., employers or alumni).

The workshop participants drafted a letter to department chairs which summarized their views regarding the workshop, its primary outcomes and the importance of continuing discussion and sharing about geoscience departments.


The Building Strong Geoscience Departments website incorporates a wide range of resources. All of the workshop materials are available: workshop program, PowerPoint presentations and discussion summaries (linked from the program), posters, as well as a list of participants and their essays describing the variety of ways in which participants' departments have met challenges and opportunities. There are also a great many bibliographical references, reports, and websites of use to departmental leaders for leadership and planning.


The workshop participants recommended a variety of follow-on activities including:

  • Advice for Department Chairs
    • Via website
    • Via workshop that people can apply to and come. Discussions at this workshop should be confidential.
    • Chair mentoring network
    • Pool of experts for external department review
    • Professional society program for new chairs
  • Dissemination of workshop information via
    • Early career - advice on tenure
    • Word of mouth
    • Letter to department chairs
    • GSA workshop/session/hot topic
    • Conversations on campuses
    • Short article in Geotimes
    • Specific recommendations included Carolyn Eyles as NAGT speaker; Chris Keene's statistics as a road show; using the Hubbard or Gilbert forum series; regional meetings.
  • Expanding the conversation
    • Wrapped in presidents remarks
    • Pardee session on why geosciences are central to society
    • Hot topic on managing change
  • Broadening input via
    • Website
    • GSA/AGU etc.
  • Moving forward with information gathering that describes departments
    • Website
    • NTFUGE monograph that is descriptive and analytical