A Departmental Open House for Increased Engagement and Recruiting of General Education Geoscience Students

Thursday 4:30pm-5:30pm Red Gym
Poster Session


Rebecca Freeman, University of Kentucky
Sean Bemis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Frank R. Ettensohn, University of Kentucky
Peter Idstein, University of Kentucky
Kevin Yeager, University of Kentucky
The University of Kentucky Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences teaches several 100-level courses, primarily for non-science majors. These large-enrollment courses are taught in large lecture halls that provide little opportunity to engage students in hands-on laboratory experiences. Every semester, the department holds a 2-hour late-afternoon open house, wherein all laboratories have demonstrations, including earthquake monitoring, water testing, core examination, stable isotope analysis, a stream table, volcano demonstrations and more, generally 8-12 different activities in all. These activities, staffed by faculty and graduate students, relate to specific course content and showcase ongoing departmental research. Students are directed to appropriate activities for their classes and use a worksheet to reflect on their learning at each activity.

Although students are offered extra credit for their attendance, along with snacks, we have been surprised by the success of the open house in attracting students to our department, with 300 or more attending in most semesters. We gain at least one or two new majors in the weeks following the open houses, and their diversity is higher than the general population of our usual majors. As high course enrollment is increasingly a university priority, we recruit students to introductory courses by encouraging currently enrolled students to "bring a friend" for increased extra credit. Although some come only for extra credit, many are enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn about departmental research. An added benefit is that our own majors also attend the open house and relish opportunities to visit routinely secured research laboratories. Our Geology Club and graduate assistants help organize and staff the activities, providing them with even more diverse learning and teaching experiences. This relatively simple activity has united various elements in the department, from senior researchers to freshman non-science majors, in an afternoon of celebrating the diverse opportunities in geosciences.