Initial Publication Date: September 3, 2012

Geology, Northern Arizona University

Information for this profile was provided by Rod Parnell, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University. Information is also available on the department's website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


NAU's School of Earth Science and Environmental Sustainability offers three undergraduate degrees; all focus on pre-professional training with a strong field emphasis. Our Geology degree is a traditional mineralogy/petrology/sedimentology/structure progression that also incorporates a component of applied/surficial geology. Our environmental sciences degrees provide a strong core in the natural sciences with a required emphasis area in one of the natural or social sciences. Our environmental studies degrees have a strong core in the natural and social sciences (with several courses shared with the environmental sciences degree) and a required focus area in sustainability, the Southwest environment, or globalization.


The geology degrees date from the 1960s and were created to provide rigorous natural sciences degrees with a strong field focus on our region and an emphasis on professional skills.

Program Goals

Learning goals include: provide broad-based, field based knowledge of the major disciplines in the geosciences; develop the skills necessary to collect, analyze, and interpret geologic data, and to create a geologic map using a computer and GIS; develop skills in scientific analysis and reasoning involving multidimensional representations which reflect an understanding of geologic processes and the magnitude of geologic time, and the ability to read and interpret processes from a geologic map; and develop ability to communicate geologic information.

Alumni Careers

We view environmental and geosciences majors as pre-professional training. Their commonest career trajectories go through federal, state and tribal environmental and resource management agencies. Many also go on to graduate programs in geosciences, environmental sciences and environmental policy, and some go through law schools into environmental policy. Our geology programs retain strong and productive relationships with energy and mineral resources industries, which continue to hire a roughly a third of our geology graduates, particularly our MS students.

In addition, a number of our students go into middle or high school education, or environmental education through non-governmental organizations. Some also work in outdoor recreation and education organizations. There have been geologists who went on to med school or to pursue law degrees.

Program Assessment

We have developed assessment programs, including pre-and post-assessment components for all of our degree programs, in cooperation with NAU's Office of Academic Assessment. All programs use assessments of capstone products from our students and exit interviews, along with other components.

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

Entry courses are Introductory Geology, Physical Geology or Geologic Disasters.

Core courses

All Geology majors must take these additional core courses:

  • Historical Geology
  • Introduction to Field Methods (Prerequisite: Introductory Geology)
  • Mineralogy, Introduction to Earth Materials (Prerequisite: Introductory Geology, precalculus, and university chemistry)
  • Petrology (Prerequisite: Mineralogy)
  • Sedimentology/Stratigraphy (Prerequisite: Mineralogy and Introduction to field methods)
  • Geologic Communication (Prerequisite: 17 hours of geology)
  • Structural Geology (Prerequisite: mineralogy and intro field methods)
  • Physics and Chemistry of the Earth (Prerequisite: senior status in geology)
  • Advanced Geologic Field Methods (Prerequisite: structural geology and sedimentology/stratigraphy)
  • Calculus I and II
  • University Chemistry I and II
  • Physics I and II

and at least one of the following:

  • Geomorphology (Prerequisite: intro geology and historical geology)
  • Hydrogeology (Prerequisite: intro geology, calculus I) or
  • Applied Geology (Prerequisite: Intro geology, precalculus, university chemistry)


Geology elective course requirements are 2-4 courses (6-16 credit hours) depending upon the emphasis chosen. Students choose from Environmental, General, Geophysics, Hydrogeology, or Paleontology emphases.

Environmental electives:

  • Extreme Weather
  • Climate Change
  • Solid and Hazardous Waste Management
  • Environmental Sciences of the San Juan River
  • Soil and Groundwater Remediation
  • Meteorology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Historical Ecology: Reconstructing Past Ecosystems
  • Microbial Ecology
  • Senior majors may choose to enroll in 500-level ENV courses for which they meet the prerequisites.

Geology electives:

  • Oceanography
  • Paleontology
  • Geomorphology (Prerequisite: intro geology and historical geology)
  • Applied Geology (Prerequisite: calculus, one semester geology, one semester chemistry)
  • Hydrogeology (Prerequisite: calculus, mineralogy)

Senior majors may choose to enroll in 500-level GLG courses for which they meet the prerequisites.


Advanced Geologic Field Methods