Heads and Chairs: Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 8:30am-11:30am TSU - Humphries: 13


Sharon Mosher, The University of Texas at Austin
Jeffrey Ryan, University of South Florida
Ginny Peterson, Grand Valley State University
Sara Harris, University of British Columbia
This workshop is intended to help department heads, chairs, and undergraduate program directors with addressing challenges in their curricula and/or degree programs aimed at better preparing their students for future geoscience careers and/or graduate school. The NSF sponsored initiative on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education engaged a diverse spectrum of the geoscience academic and employer community and developed a wide consensus on the skills, competencies, and conceptual understandings undergraduates need to be successful in graduate school and the future workforce and effective methods of producing these learning outcomes in undergraduate geoscience programs. We will focus specifically on best practices for implementing such changes in departments.


The NSF sponsored Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education initiative developed a community consensus on the skills, competencies and concepts needed by students to be successful in graduate school and future careers. Additionally we worked with department heads and chairs on best ways to implement needed changes in undergraduate programs. Change is difficult even when there is overall agreement on the desired outcomes. This workshop will focus on best practices department heads and chairs and undergraduate program directors have used to get faculty to incorporate the community consensus into their undergraduate programs. Topics will include evaluation and redesign of curriculum, changing pedagogy and incorporating experiential learning, and assessment of results. We will also present results of another NSF sponsored initiative, on the universal skills needed by PhD and MS students in the geosciences (Earth, Atmosphere, and Ocean Sciences), which has implications for what skills and competencies employers expect entering graduate students will have.

Workshop Program » Resources » Participant Workspace (limited access) » Additional Related Workshops & Activities


This workshop is designed for department heads, chairs, undergraduate program directors and others involved in undergraduate curriculum or program revisions.


As a result of participation in the workshops, participants will:

  • Be introduced (or re-introduced) to the outcomes of the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education initiative and the results of a new NSF sponsored initiative on Universal Skills for Graduate Students in Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean Sciences.
  • Learn the best practices have worked for their peers (2YC's to R1s) in implementing these changes into their departments, as well as what doesn't work
  • Learn to navigate the common issues raised by faculty when faced with addressing these changes, and work in small groups to begin the process of preparing to address these issues.


Day 1. Brief overview and discussion of the skills, concepts and competencies identified from the undergraduate initiative and new insights from geoscience employers that came out of the Fall 2018 Geoscience Employer Workshop for PhD and MS students. Discuss such questions, as "How is it possible to cover everything recommended while incorporating experiential learning and other interactive teaching?" "Balancing knowing and understanding concepts and developing skills; breadth versus depth – can't do everything – so what gives? How do you decide?"

Day 2. Discussion of implementation strategies and examples. "Backwards design" of curriculum – how to do it, how to get faculty buy-in for the process, and what pitfalls to avoid. Small group backwards-design exercises using their own curricula, faculty expertise, and common career/graduate school choices of student body.

Day 3. Best practices for getting students to develop these skills. What pedagogies and types of experiential learning works? What extracurricular activities can be offered to help? What role can employers and professional societies play and how to get them involved? Assessment: having made changes – how can one know what is successful, both as one makes changes and after they have been implemented?

Note: Another difficult issue that became evident during this undergraduate initiative is insuring students have the high level of math and computational skills needed by geoscientists, including incorporating math throughout the geoscience curricula. Two afternoon workshops will address this issue.

Related Rendezvous Events

The Rendezvous program is designed to be flexible for participants to explore any topics they're interested in. If you'd like to participate in more Heads and Chairs related events, we encourage you to check out the following:





  • Town hall

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