A growing major in Earth Science at UCSD

Geoffrey Cook, University of California-San Diego

We have a relatively new (since 2007) undergraduate program in Earth Science at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The program is unique in that it is taught, administered, and run by Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), which is a graduate-oriented entity within UCSD. As a program we are still dealing with the challenges associated with defining the direction and goals of the B.S. degree in Earth Science.

In part due to the newness of the program, we have a limited amount of data regarding the employment of our graduates. We are highly cognizant that we need to do a better job following up with our students after they complete their degrees. We conduct exit interviews, but these are currently limited in scope. We have identified several career/postgraduate tracks our majors tend to follow including, but not limited to: 1) environmental consulting and hydrogeology; 2) post-graduate study, some at other institutions, but recently a number of graduating seniors have taken advantage of our contiguous B.S./M.S. program in Earth Science in which they are "fast-tracked" through the admissions process and work at SIO on their research; 3) teaching, both in K-12 settings and also at community colleges; 4) economic geology (mainly mineral exploration but a handful of students have found employment with petroleum companies).

Prior to 2007, our major existed mainly as a joint "geology specialization" within the Chemistry and Physics departments. As such, the major was designed to be highly quantitative in nature, and followed a decidedly a non-traditional geology curriculum. Additionally, the professional goals for graduates were much different—post-graduate study was the preferred career track for majors, and given the small numbers of majors, students were essentially being "groomed" for graduate school both at SIO and elsewhere. With the inception of the Earth Science major, priorities changed for the program. The curriculum shifted towards a slightly more traditional one; although it is still highly quantitatively rigorous and encourages interdisciplinary coursework across a variety of Earth-related disciplines. Moreover, with increasing numbers of majors, it was recognized that students would have a broader range of post-graduation career interests.

My motivation for attending this workshop stems from the understanding that as a program we have a responsibility to our students to encourage and provide them with the best training, mentorship and advisement with respect to their careers. I hope to learn as much as possible in order to best modify our approach to career counseling and preparation. Although our major is relatively young and small, we offer unique opportunities due to our location and the SIO affiliation. Our hope is to build the program always with an eye towards what we can do to best serve our students and graduates. As a developing program, we have the flexibility and opportunity to mold our major to best suit our students; the timing of this workshop is ideal.

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