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Common Ground Between Applied Geology and Engineering

Horacio Ferriz, Physics and Geology, California State University-Stanislaus

Engineering, the most creative profession in the world! In Latin and its derived languages, the word engineering (e.g., ingeniería in Spanish) is derived from the word ingenuity (e.g., ingenio in Spanish). The scope of Engineering is the solution of problems through ingenuity, often with the help of technology and scientific knowledge. Since problem solving is as old as humanity itself, engineering is as fundamental a human activity as art or language. It is surprising that many universities do not have engineering programs as part of their "liberal arts" curricula!

Geology is the scientific study of the Earth, including the solid Earth, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere. Some of this study is "academic", as practiced in research institutions, but a lot of it is applied in the sense that it is used for the solution of problems relevant to society. In this regard, then, applied geology and engineering have a common goal. Enter, then the practice of geological engineering, which could be divided in:
We at California State University Stanislaus do not have a School of Engineering, but have made an effort to have a strong emphasis in applied geology. Partly this is due to the fact that most of our graduates go directly to the work force, where they are expected to be proficient in the work requirements of the disciplines listed above, and partly because I am a geological engineer with working experience in engineering geology, hydrogeology, geophysics, petroleum geology, and ore deposits geology.

Perhaps the most effective ways I have found to trigger interest in applied geology/geological engineering has been through laboratory or field exercises that give the students a flavor for what may be expected of them in professional life. By the course in which the exercises are presented:

Applied Geology (a course that covers engineering geology and ore deposits geology)


Geophysical Exploration (a course that also covers the foundations of petroleum geology)

Two final thoughts: First, the limited mathematical ability of geology students is a real hindrance to tackling any "real life" problems. I designed a "Math for Geologists" class, but over the last four years I have been able to teach it only ones, because of low enrollments. Second, developing a problem-solving mentality is probably easier in a studio environment, such as used in the teaching of architecture. Unfortunately that is a model not commonly used in other disciplines, so being able to implement such a model, at least in my university, is unlikely.

An alternative would be to use case studies as lab assignments. To be realistic one would need access to investigation results and design drawings. Maybe this is an area where engineering companies could be asked to partner with applied geology programs.

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