The Challenge and Reward of Teaching Geological Engineering on the Border

Diane Doser, Department of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at El Paso

Teaching geology to engineers is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I do each year. Each year a new class of undergraduate civil engineers often begrudgingly starts the semester in their "required" engineering geology course and by the end of the semester present posters on projects where they proudly display their new-found geologic knowledge and skills. In my class I strive to prepare the students with knowledge to: be able to converse with geoscientists and read geological/geophysical reports, know the basic rock and soil types they will find in the El Paso area and the properties of these materials that an engineer should be concerned with, understand surface and internal geologic processes and how they affect engineering projects and how geophysics is an important tool in the field and the laboratory. In their laboratory they learn to read maps, construct cross sections, predict rock and soil properties by how these materials appear in hand samples, conduct simple geophysical surveys and learn to communicate geology to their colleagues and the general public. The course is capped by a group project where they apply what they have learned to read life situations such as building a light rail system, a new pipeline to bring water to El Paso once our nearby groundwater supplies are depleted, a new housing development – something that they could work on in their lifetimes. Several former students have even called later to tell me that they are actually working on a project similar to what we covered in class! Not only do I find the course challenging, engaging, and often fun), but my graduate teaching assistants (commonly studying geophysics or structural geology) also benefit from learning to communicate science in a different way. I have worked closely with the civil engineering faculty to insure what I teach continues to be relevant to their program and produces students with a clear grasp of why geoscientists and engineers need to communicate and work together.

Downloadable version of this essay

Teaching Geological Engineering on the Border (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 11kB Feb13 13)