Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University-Bozeman

Information for this profile was provided by David Mogk, Earth Sciences, Montana State University-Bozeman. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University encompasses the disciplines of the geosciences and geography with degree options in: Geology, Hydrology, Snow Science, Paleontology, Geography and GIS/Planning.

Strengths of this program

The undergraduate curriculum is designed to offer learning progressions that generally follow Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive skills: observation, description, integration and synthesis in each of the 4 years of our program. General themes including geologic time, earth processes (internal and external), earth architecture and composition, and interactions with humanity are revisited in a variety of ways throughout the curriculum. The curriculum is built on the foundations of a firm understanding of first principles, development of the scientific method, field instruction, and an emphasis on earth history and processes.

Types of students served

Our curriculum serves a) a broad range of students in our offerings of introductory courses that meets the institution's Core Curriculum requirements; these courses are quite important as they are the recruitment portal for most of our majors; b) students in cognate sciences such as ecology, land resources, and pre-service training of teachers; and c) Earth Sciences majors, about half of whom continue their education in graduate school, and the remainder are largely employed in discipline-related jobs.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:

Students graduating from the Dept of Earth Sciences at Montana State University:

  • Will acquire knowledge of the Earth system; connections among the "spheres"; energy and mass sources, reservoirs and pathways; impacts on and by humanity.
  • Will acquire a conceptual understanding of geologic time, and related temporal concepts such as evolution (of life and Earth); duration, frequency, magnitude, recurrence interval of geologic events; geologic time scale and significant tectonic, evolutionary events; temporal reasoning.
  • Will acquire spatial reasoning skills; GIS is at the core of our undergraduate curriculum to enable students to represent spatial data; landscapes, structural geology, geophysics, all emphasize spatial relations on or in the Earth.
  • Professional skills; mastery of many technical skills specific to geology and geography; mastery of GIS skills; quantitative skills; communication skills (oral, written, graphical); interpersonal skills (collaborative learning).

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:

Overarching resources we used to develop our curriculum include:

  1. How People Learn (Bransford et al)
  2. Bloom's Taxonomy of cognitive skills
  3. Wiggins and McTighe, "backwards design" in curriculum development
  4. the Earth system approach was developed following Ireton et al (1997) and many subsequent reports on Earth System Science
  5. a variety of approaches to teaching topic X have been adopted or adapted from resources at SERC and from Journal of Geoscience Education.

How program goals are assessed

The revised department assessment plan is currently in development. It will include: a) clear articulation of learning goals, objectives and outcomes required on all course syllabuses; b) alignment of assessments with the stated learning goals; c) review of portfolios of class activities to assess whether or not (or to what extent) the learning goals have been met by the department Curriculum Committee. In the future, I hope to have instituted longitudinal input from alumni to determine the extent that the curriculum has prepared them for the workforce and met their continuing professional needs.

Design features that allow goals to be met

We are working towards better articulation of our courses such that prerequisite courses better anticipate the needs of future courses, and upper division courses are reflective of material covered previously. We acknowledge the "rule of 3's" which says that if something is worth knowing, students need to have at least three exposures.

Alumni Careers

Graduation rate

This year we will graduate 38 students with BS degrees. We have maintained graduation rates of 35 +/-5 for the past numerous years.

Careers pursued by our alumni

About a third of our best graduate students continue their professional development in graduate school. Students with BS degrees from our department are currently working in: mineral exploration, oil and gas exploration, environmental consulting, public planning and policy. A few are now employed in business outside the Earth sciences (e.g real estate), and we have a few who are now certified as K-12 teachers. We need to do a better job at tracking our alumni career paths.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements

Montana State University Earth Science Course Matrix (Acrobat (PDF) 62kB Apr26 13)