Initial Publication Date: May 9, 2013

Boise State University's Preparation of Undergraduates for Geoscience Careers

Karen Viskupic, Boise State University

The Department of Geosciences at Boise State University has approximately 150 undergraduate majors in two degree programs. The BS in geophysics is a small program with approximately 20 majors. The remaining 130 students in the BS geosciences program are distributed among emphasis areas in geology (60 students), hydrology (60 students), and secondary education (10 students). Boise State has a large population of non-traditional students; the average age of undergraduates is 25 and more than 70% of them work off campus. More than 80% of students are from Idaho.

Most of our graduates look for work in Idaho or surrounding states. Many of them have children a spouse with a job that makes it impractical to leave the area, or they have been in the region for a long time and are happy living here.

Students in our geoscience secondary education program have been successful finding teaching jobs in Idaho. Until recently we offered a separate BS in Earth science education that required fewer math and geoscience courses than the current secondary education emphasis under the BS geoscience degree. Similar changes were made to all science secondary education degree programs at Boise State in an effort to entice more students to prepare for careers in K-12 education. At the same time, the new program provides students with a deeper education in the geosciences so that they would be qualified to pursue jobs outside of teaching if desired.

Most of the recent BS geophysics graduates have entered MS programs in geophysics. A few others have found jobs with environmental or engineering consulting firms.

The majority of our students earn a BS in geoscience with an emphasis in either geology or hydrology. About 15% of each year's graduates enter MS or PhD programs in geoscience fields. Mining companies in Nevada and Idaho employ many of our recent geology, and some hydrology, graduates. Consulting firms and government agencies also hire our geology and hydrology students. Recent students have found employment with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the USGS, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Key features of our program that help prepare students for the workforce are:

  1. an emphasis on developing observational skills, recording observations, and separating observations from interpretations;
  2. an emphasis on synthesizing information from different branches or subdisciplines of geoscience;
  3. practice with field, lab, and modeling techniques;
  4. group projects that require formal reports or presentation of findings;
  5. broad exposure to geoscience disciplines through the sophomore year as well as specialized upper division coursework; and
  6. a capstone experience for all students (field camp, internship, or research project).

Downloadable version of this essay

Boise State workforce essay (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 143kB May9 13)