Initial Publication Date: May 28, 2013

Department of Geology at the College of William & Mary

Information for this profile was provided by Heather Macdonald, Geology, College of William and Mary. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The Department of Geology at the College of William & Mary offers a geology major. Majors choose either a general geology or environmental geology track.

Strengths of this program

The Geology Department is a dynamic community of talented students, faculty, and staff. The courses are both intriguing and challenging, and there are ample opportunities for learning and research beyond the classroom. All geology majors pursue an original senior research project and this yearlong endeavor forms an important capstone experience. Many of our students present their research at professional meetings and write up their results for publication.

The geology curriculum is designed to provide majors with a strong broad-based education in the modern earth sciences. The program is also flexible enough to allow students to explore their own interests. Geology courses stress the process of learning about the workings of the Earth. Emphasis is placed on both modern and ancient earth systems as well as the environment and change through time. Quantitative thinking and problem solving are paramount. Fieldwork forms a key component of many courses and provides realistic preparation for further graduate studies and the workplace. William & Mary field experiences take students to all corners of Virginia, and also range to the deserts of west Texas, the deep canyons of the Colorado Plateau, and active volcanoes in Hawaii.

Students discuss their research endeavors and internship experiences with their peers and the faculty at our brown-bag seminars. Senior geology majors lead the department field trip in the spring, focusing on sites from their senior research. Geology students serve as tutors for the introductory geology courses and as undergraduate teaching assistants in the introductory labs. They teach earth science lessons at local elementary schools and to other groups through Geology on Wheels, the department's outreach program. They come to departmental picnics and contribute to the annual departmental chili cook-off contest.

Types of students served

  • Liberal arts students taking one or more courses who are preparing for a wide range of careers
  • Geology majors, both those who will pursue a career in geology as well those who will pursue careers in other fields after graduation.
  • Students in other fields including environmental science, biology, chemistry, marine science, and elementary education, and other fields.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:

These are goals (or expectations) developed for assessment purposes.

  1. Students will understand the process of plate tectonics and its consequences (e.g., deformation of rocks, earthquakes, volcanism).
  2. Students will be able to identify and interpret the significance of basic earth materials (e.g., minerals and rocks).
  3. Students will understand basic aspects of geologic time and geochronology.
  4. Students will understand processes on Earth's surface, including rates.
  5. Students will demonstrate an understanding of geologic maps, including their construction and interpretation. Development of basic geologic field skills is an essential component of this expectation.
  6. Students will conduct original scientific research, generating scientific questions/hypotheses prior to embarking on data collection, utilize and/or design methods to address the geologic question, problem, or hypothesis, collect relevant data, interpret the data, assess the questions/hypotheses, discuss the results, and present conclusions orally and in writing.
We also have goals related to specific skills (e.g, quantitative skills, communication skills, information literacy skills, research skills).

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:

Faculty experience and expertise based on various reports, institutional policies, expectations used by other departments, and a variety of discussions with employers, alumni, students, and colleagues at other institutions.

How program goals are assessed

Some of our goals (or expectations) are evaluated through laboratory assignments, problem sets, and examinations. We use the "portfolio" approach in our evaluations, targeting the specific courses that include the relevant experiences in each case. The formal evaluation of the last goal will consist of: 1) a review of the Introduction to Geologic Research course (taken by juniors), again based on a portfolio (which will include examples of junior research proposals); and 2) an assessment of a subset of senior theses and honors theses. Assessment of theses will include a comparison with each student's proposal prepared prior to embarking on the project.

Design features that allow goals to be met

All faculty participate in the evaluation of the research requirement based on the junior research proposal presentations and the senior research presentations. Use of the "matrix approach" as developed by Mary Savina, Carleton College, has helped with the development of student skills throughout the curriculum.

Alumni Careers

Graduation rate

We graduate ~20 students a year. The class of 2014 currently includes 37 senior geology majors.

Year 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Graduates 20 19 21 20 21

Careers pursued by our alumni

William & Mary geology graduates go on to a diverse array of careers that range from the earth and environmental sciences to law, teaching, medicine, and even the clergy. Many recent graduates are pursuing advanced degrees at universities across the country while others are working as environmental geologists, petroleum geologists, and GIS analysts; still others are with the Peace Corps and the National Park Service. Many of our graduates go to graduate school in the earth sciences (45-50%) or obtain another professional degree (15-20%). Long term, approximately two-thirds of the geology graduates are employed in the earth sciences.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements