Initial Publication Date: May 7, 2013

Associate of Applied Science in Geoscience Technology at Northern Virginia Community College

Information for this profile was provided by Shelley Jaye, Geology, Northern Virginia Community College. Students in this program are pursuing a associates degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The Associate of Applied Science in Geoscience Technology program is specifically designed to prepare students for entry-level positions at governmental agencies, such as the US Geological Survey, or at geotechnical and environmental companies and laboratories. Students prepare for this STEM technology degree by concentrating on introductory level, cross-curriculum science and geoscience courses.

Strengths of this program

This program is one concentration in an over-arching Associate of Applied Science in STEM Technology currently in development at the college. Our close association with secondary schools in the area as well as scientific government agencies and private corporations indicate a desire and a need for well-trained entry-level technicians with a strong STEM background. Our program fills a niche for students that are interested in pursuing a STEM career without necessarily attaining an advanced degree. It also provides employers with STEM skilled technicians that can readily support laboratory and field geoscientists.

Types of students served

We envision our program to attract students seeking specific professional geoscience skills and options for internships, employment or transfer to a four-year school to pursue an advanced degree.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:

The student learning outcomes are in development as we continue to meet with faculty, professional groups and prospective employers

Specific Outcomes for the Geoscience Technician:

  • General learning outcome: Develop an understanding of the physical constitution of the Earth
    • Specific outcomes: Identify common rocks and minerals in hand sample and in thin section; understand how physical properties of rocks and minerals relate to chemistry and crystal structure; describe the layers of the Earth and understand the evidence used to deduce this structure; characterize the major physiographic features of the Earth (e.g. oceanic basins, ridges and trenches, and mountain belts)
  • General learning outcome: Develop a general understanding of the internal and external dynamic processes of earth systems
    • Specific outcomes: Understand the theory of plate tectonics; explain rock structures at all scales; describe the rock and hydrologic cycles; relate igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary phenomena to plate tectonic processes
  • General learning outcome: Develop a general understanding of the history of the Earth
    • Specific outcomes: Understand the scope of geologic time, and explain the divisions of the geologic time scale; relate fossil evidence to biological evolution; understand geologic age-dating method
  • General learning outcome: Develop skills common to geologic professionals.
    • Specific outcomes: Read and comprehend a topographic map and a geologic map; use appropriate technological tools (e.g. Brunton compass, GPS, GIS); practice methods of hard rock analysis and make rock thin sections; practice micro-paleontological techniques in fossil identification and separation; practice sediment size separation and analysis; practice rock and sediment core logging techniques; practice geological field techniques, outcrop depiction and interpretation.
(After Castleton Geology Program)

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:

Resources used to compile the learning outcomes include those found at similar departments and discussion with the US Geological Survey.

How program goals are assessed

The Geoscience Technician program, though very much in the developmental stages, has already placed seven students at the US Geological Survey in summer internship positions during 2012; three of the students remain at the Survey in part-time employment status as they continue their education. The USGS internship program has gone through a revision in 2013 and summer intern positions have yet to be finalized.

Design features that allow goals to be met

The college supports nine regional campuses plus an Extended (Online) Learning Institute. There are eight full-time geology faculty across four campuses. We teach a variety of geoscience courses that offer non-majors a choice in fulfilling their lab science credit. Our curriculum includes several non-traditional (for a community college) geoscience courses for majors that transfer as undergraduate core curriculum courses in mineralogy and paleontology.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements

Geoscience Technology Curriculum Plan (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 18kB May7 13)