Geology for Engineers

Freddi-Jo Bruschke,
CSU Fullerton


This is a lecture-based course designed to provide an broad introduction to geologic concepts and processes for engineers with no previous exposure to geology. Students complete a series of analytic assignments related to the topics covered in lecture and research a California geologic hazard topic to present to the rest of the class. Student work is assessed through quizzes, exams, homework, and the hazard presentation.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course is an upper-division elective for Civil Engineering and Environmental Science majors. There are no prerequisites for this course. The majority of the students are engineering majors with an interest in environmental engineering. The course provides engineering students with context for later courses on soils engineering, seismic engineering, and water resources engineering.

Course Content:

Topics covered in the course include basics of geology such as Plate Tectonics, Geologic Time and Dating, Rocks and Minerals, Volcanic Processes, Sedimentary Processes, Earthquakes, Geologic Structures and Maps, and Weathering. The second half of the course addresses more traditional engineering geology topics of Rock Mechanics, Mass Wasting and Slope Stability, Soils, Ground and Surface Water, and Shoreline Processes.

Course Goals:

Students completing this course should be able to:
Read and understand a geologic site assessment
Apply concepts of geology to engineering projects
Understand and interpret topographic and geologic maps
Interact and communicate effectively with project geologists
Understand when geologic hazards will be important for engineering projects

Course Features:

The course includes a few in-class activities, such as mineral identification and building models of geologic features, designed to reinforce lecture topics. In future, more of these types of active learning activities would be welcome. The final project for this course allows the students to evaluate local geologic hazards and/or environmental impacts. For example, one project examined the likely impacts of a hydraulic fracturing project in Los Angeles on ground-water quality and slope stability. As the course is more fully developed, there should be many opportune locations to integrate sustainability themes.

Course Philosophy:

This course is designed to provide the students with a geologic context for their environmental engineering studies. It is hoped that the students will leave the course with an appreciation for the importance of geology to their future work and a taste of geologic methods. Geologic field trips will be added in future iterations of the course and will hopefully serve to demonstrate application of processes studied in class to actual locations. The course would be stronger if environmental impacts related to geologic processes were more fully integrated throughout the course, rather than concentrated at the end.


Assessment in this course is accomplished through traditional exams as well as homework assignments that require analytic application of course concepts. The final research project requires students to synthesize information from many portions of the course and apply their knowledge to a specific case study. In the past students have been asked to analyze famous engineering disasters in terms of the geology (e.g. St. Francis Dam) and present geologic hazards and risks specific to our region (e.g. effects of hydraulic fracturing in Los Angeles)


Syllabus: Geology for Engineers (Acrobat (PDF) 148kB Mar4 13)

References and Notes:

Kehew,A. Geology for Engineers and Environmental Scientists, 3rd edition