Initial Publication Date: May 7, 2013

Training the Future Geoscience Workforce at the 2YC

Shelley Jaye, Northern Virginia Community College

The US Geological Survey (USGS) headquartered in Reston, VA, approached Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in September, 2011 with a proposal to partner in training geoscience students for potential Physical Science Technician (PST) positions at the Survey. A PST is an entry level position at the USGS. With this training the Survey hopes that the best and brightest would be offered summer internship positions which may, in turn, lead to full time employment. Statistics show that the population of professional geoscientists and trained technicians is aging (see AGI Workforce Summary: The significant decline in geology majors during the 1990's (see figure 1) has resulted in a void of trained geoscientists available to step into these positions as retirements at the Survey loom large (see figure 2). Realizing their dilemma, the USGS became proactive in engaging the community college as the initial step in providing trained technicians to add to their workforce. The thought is that with training and opportunity, these students will potentially remain at the Survey as full-time PSTs or go on to pursue Bachelor and advanced degrees in the geosciences, returning to the Survey as associates and research scientists.

Together with several scientists from the USGS (also NOVA adjuncts), the Geology Department at NOVA has worked on defining the curriculum and designing new courses which will lead to a new Associate of Applied Science Degree in Geocience Technology. We are in a unique position at NOVA to be able to offer not only the common introductory courses in geology, biology and chemistry but also more advanced courses in Mineralogy, Paleontology, GIS, rock preparation and analysis and field techniques courses all deemed necessary by a USGS PST. Although this degree program is in-work and no students have graduated with an AAS in Geoscience Technology, the USGS still has a need and the available resources to hire NOVA interns. We offered this internship opportunity to our cross-campus student body enrolled in our geoscience courses this past summer. Through a competitive process of resume submission and interviews, seven of our NOVA students were offered internship positions at the USGS. In fact, NOVA students worked out so well that research scientists looked within their own program budget to keep three of our students on as part-time employees while they continue their studies at NOVA.

Current and future plans: We are now working on a much larger program at NOVA to develop a new Associate of Applied Science degree in STEM Technology. This program is designed to prepare graduates for employment in entry-level positions in the STEM workforce. The technical workforce has three vital parts to it; the Scientists, the Engineers and the STEM Technicians. STEM Technicians are a critical element of the technical workforce. A STEM Technician will work with Scientists and Engineers to implement designs and approaches, set-up and run experiments, collect and analyze data, interpret results, develop charts and document their work in reports, verbally discuss and share results, maintain valuable equipment and instruments, work as laboratory technicians in research or manufacturing, serve as on-site technical specialist and/or field representatives as well as being a contributing team member of the technical team they are assigned to. Employers are governmental, industrial or non-profit organizations working in STEM-related fields. Coursework for this program will involve a core set of general educational courses and a series of elective courses in the STEM area that the student wants to specialize in. These areas are Geoscience, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Environmental Science, Engineering, Computer Science, Cyber Security or a hybrid of the above. We are currently working on setting up focus groups with government, industry, secondary school and higher education partners to access the interest and need within the community for the proposed STEM Technician.

Figure 1.

See downloadable essay for Figure 1.

Figure 2.

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Downloadable version of this essay

Training the Future Geoscience Workforce at the 2YC (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 58kB May7 13)