The Power of Integration: Engineering, Geoscience, & Sustainability
Interdisciplinary teaching in itself is a powerful tool for preparing students for the workforce and is a mechanism to engage students in thinking critically about how systems interact. The integration of engineering, geoscience, and sustainability present a unique opportunity for students to work together to solve problems related to sustainability issues. In order to integrate engineering and geoscience, one must understand that these two disciplinary cultures approach and solve problems in different ways. However, with careful planning and design, integrating these two disciplines is a powerful approach to teaching about sustainability issues.
The first step toward integrating engineering and geoscience is in identifying and building from common ground. There are several sustainability-related key concepts that bridge the engineering and geoscience divide. These include:
- Risk and reliability, including design criteria (e.g., sizing, resistance, capacity), disaster/hazards planning and mitigation
- Systems thinking - cradle-to-grave, life-cycle assessment
- Ethical responsibility and public safety, including ensuring a supply of potable water, ensuring safe reliable food supply; soil conservation, urbanization
- Multi-criteria decision making (Triple Bottom Line, Five Pillars)
- Construction, materials, and infrastructure - green manufacturing, product substitution, life cycle, planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning
- Finite natural resources - water, land/soil
- Environmental quality - air, water, soil - fate and transport, impact assessment
- Transportation - logistics, including hazards, economics, equity
- Restoration - water/wastewater treatment, air pollution control, stream channel rehabilitation
- Urban and community planning in general as well as anticipating and in response to natural hazards
- Coastal geology/engineering: climate impacts, sea-level change, coastal aquifers
- Improving public science and engineering literacy
- Energy - including energy policy, priorities, sustainable development, usage, and managing the transition from carbon-based energy to the next generation
- Adaptation and mitigation strategies for the effects of climate change
Once you have identified common concepts related to your course or program, you can start building course material to integrate these topics. For example, Gretchen Miller (Texas A&M University) describes how she uses uncertainty and risk to integrate geoscience and engineering into her course in her essay Uncertainty and Risk: Bringing the Geosciences into the Civil Engineering Classroom.
Methods such as team teaching, interdisciplinary research projects, field projects, and service learning projects can be designed to utilize expertise from different types of thinkers. Projects such as the Engineering for Change forum may also provide new ideas, networking opportunities, and guidance for projects that you and your students can undertake.
The essays below were selected from those contributed by participants of the Engineering, Sustainability, and the Geosciences workshop held in March 2013. The entire collection of participant-contributed essays are available from the workshop's essay collection.
- Learn how Laurel Goodell and her colleagues at Princeton University reinvented a geoscience course to integrate engineering and a stronger quantitative skills component in her essay, "Reinventing the Introductory Geology Course for Engineering and Other Quantitatively-able Students.
- Read about Mary Beth Gray's approach to teaching geology to engineers at Bucknell University in her essay Teaching at the Intersection of Geoscience and Engineering.
- Steve Burian (University of Utah) explains some Techniques to Teach Sustainability in Multi-Disciplinary Classrooms Comprised of Engineers, Geoscientists, and other Disciplines.
- Read A few thoughts on the integration of engineering and geoscience from Vince Cronin (Baylor University), describing how better integration of geoscience and engineering in the classroom is key to preparing students for the workforce and how to facilitate this integration.
- Finding a Global View at the Intersection of Geology and Engineering, by LeAnne Teruya (San Jose State University), describes how concepts such as natural disasters can be used to bridge the divide between disciplines.
Example Activities and Courses
Get inspired! The faculty-contributed course descriptions and activity examples provided below highlight some of the ways you can integrate geoscience and engineering in the classroom. Use them to get ideas for your own classroom, modify them to fit your course, or use them as they are.Course Examples
A full list of course descriptions that integrate geoscience and and engineering are available in this course collection.
- Hydrotopia: Water Resources Management in the West - Steve Burian, University of Utah
- Geology for Engineers - Mary Beth Gray, Geology, Bucknell University
- Applied Geology - Horacio Ferriz, Physics and Geology, California State University-Stanislaus
- Engineering Geology - Robert Mitchell, Geology, Western Washington University
- Geology for Engineers/Engineering Geology - Diane Doser, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso
- Geology for Engineers - Freddi-Jo Bruschke, CSU Fullerton
A full list of activity examples that integrate geoscience and and engineering are available in this activity collection.
- Assessing Water Resource Demand in New York - Kyle M. Monahan adapted from an original activity on NYC water supply losses along NYC aqueduct from Richard F. Bopp, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Think Like a Geologist Field Trip to Downtown San Jose (adaptable to other cities) - LeAnne Teruya, Geology, San Jose State University
- Physical model of the failure of an unreinforced structure during an earthquake - Vince Cronin, Baylor University
- Runoff Generation from Varying Land Surfaces - Freddi-Jo Bruschke, California State University, Fullerton
- Learning to integrate geophysics into engineering projects using a comprehensive set of interactive, online, scenario-based resources - Francis Jones, Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia