Geology for Engineers

Dr. Mary Beth Gray, Geology,
Bucknell University


This is an introductory course designed for first year civil engineering students. Lectures, classroom exercises, discussions, indoor labs, homework, readings, and a long-term library research project are all components of this course. Field labs include limestone and coal surface mines, karstified terrain, and surficial and bedrock mapping. Quizzes and exams are cumulative and integrate all components.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

All civil engineering majors are required to take this introductory course in the second semester of their first year. Next year a new major in environmental engineering will be offered. The course will also be required for these first year students. Other engineering students may take the course if seats are available. Lecture and lab sections are capped at 24 students and typically two or three sections are offered each year. Those students who choose to double major in civil engineering and geology may substitute this course for our traditional physical geology course required for geology majors. Geology for Engineers is one of four courses required for the minor in engineering geology.

Course Content:

This course covers the basic physical geology concepts and skills that are most useful to civil engineers, such as earth materials, tectonics, rock structures and mechanics, topographic maps, fossil fuels, soil and bedrock maps, cross sections, weathering, mass wasting, surface water, groundwater, earthquakes, volcanoes, river and coastal processes. A strong field lab component takes advantage of excellent local field sites. Rates of geologic processes are emphasized throughout the semester as a means to help students understand the effectively finite nature of many geologic resources, and to help establish the frequency of natural hazards.

Course Goals:

At the completion of this course, students will:

- Have a broad understanding of how geology relates to and informs engineering decisions.
- Be comfortable with earth materials classification, uses, and liabilities.
- Better understand important geologic processes that impact society and infrastructure.
- Know how to access and understand (at a basic level) geologic information useful to engineering projects.

Course Features:

The course includes a library research project that invites students to explore a specific topic of interest to them and present their findings to the class in the form of a poster presentation. The students are required to select a topic that lies at the intersection of geology and civil engineering. Most of the poster consists of two separate panels, one for geology considerations and another for engineering considerations. The abstract, context/background information and summary sections are areas where students elucidate the connections between the two components. This type of project is a great outlet for students interested in exploring sustainability topics.

Course Philosophy:

This course is a broad introductory-level survey course that sets the stage for more advanced coursework in engineering and geology. To the maximum extent possible, lecture and lab experiences are integrated and active learning exercises are commonplace in the lecture section. In the second half of the semester, I take advantage of excellent local field sites for many labs. Sustainability is addressed though the discussion of natural resources and the rates, scales and frequencies of geologic processes.


Six mini quizzes over the course of the semester serve to alert the professor to topics that need to be re-addressed in class and also serve to motivate the students to stay current with the course material. Three comprehensive exams allow students to synthesize and demonstrate their learning over longer time periods. Labs and homeworks are graded assignments. The poster project undergoes a rough draft review by the professor and the final draft and oral presentation undergo peer review. Students are encouraged to work in groups throughout the course with the exception of quizzes/exams and the poster project. I assess perceptions of geology and confidence levels with geologic concepts at the beginning and end of the course with identical surveys.


Geology for Engineers Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB Feb20 13)

Teaching Materials:

Geology for Engineers Course Schedule (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 13kB Feb20 13)

References and Notes:

Kehew, Alan, 2006, Geology for Engineers and Environmental Scientists, 3rd Ed, Prentice Hall.
Pearson Custom Laboratory Manual (derived from exercises in Busch, Richard, M., ed., 2011, Laboratory Manual in Physical Geology, 9th ed., Pearson and from Foley, D., McKenzie, G.D., and R.O. Utgard, 2009, Investigations in Environmental Geology, 3rd ed.)