Initial Publication Date: May 7, 2013

Geology at Brigham Young University-Idaho

Information for this profile was provided by Megan Pickard, Geology, Brigham Young University-Idaho. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The four-year, undergraduate Geology program is designed to promote understanding of the materials, structures, processes, and history of the Earth. The program has been in place since 2001, prior to that it was a 2-year program. We have three options: B.S. in Geology, B.A. in Earth Science Education, and B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with an Earth Studies Concentration. We also provide minors in Geology and Earth Science Education, and introductory and elective courses for civil and mechanical engineering students.

Strengths of this program

  1. Classroom implementation of our university's "Learning Model." The model urges students to take charge of their education and to be fully involved in their own learning. It defines learning as active engagement, and is based on three key steps: Prepare, Teach One Another, and Ponder and Prove. Students are required to come to class prepared to learn – e.g., they may study assigned readings, complete homework, or participate in online discussion groups. In the classroom through instructor-led discussions and other in-class learning activities (e.g., flipped classroom), students teach each other what they've learned which further hones and refines personal understanding. Later, students internalize their learning through review, reflection, and application.
  2. Strong field emphasis: Our core majors courses have multi-day field trips where students see and do geology; at field camp students apply skills and knowledge learned in all their other classes to map and interpret a previously unmapped area. In addition many students are involved in field-based mentored research projects.
  3. Student mentored research: many students complete a mentored research project. We have two levels of projects – those scripted primarily by a faculty member and then carried out by students with significant supervision, and those both scripted and carried out by students and supported by a mentoring faculty member.
  4. Strong technology emphasis: Students are required to take a rigorous GIS course and a course in collecting and analyzing various accuracies of GPS data. Students are encouraged to learn computer programming, statistics, and data-base management. Our students who are employed with a B.S. typically minor in math, physics, GIS, computer programming, or chemistry.
  5. Classroom Project 'spirals' (planning stage only): We are starting a redesign of some of our core classes and are planning to spiral some projects from course to course. For example: students are introduced to a ground-water project in Introductory Physical Geology, the same project is revisited from a different perspective in required courses (Strat/Sed, Structure, GIS) and may culminate in an elective class such as Groundwater Hydrology. We believe this will help students connect concepts and deepen their understanding as well as better prepare them for geoscience careers. We are looking for robust projects and would welcome any suggestions.
  6. Seminar: We recently implemented a seminar program that includes guest scientists and career and graduate school preparation. We intend that it will help students think early in their education about preparing for a career and not just taking classes.

Types of students served

  • Geology students who are preparing for graduate school and then for jobs in the petroleum, environmental/engineering geology, mining, and hydrology industries.
  • Earth Science education majors and minors who are working toward certification. Earth Science Ed minors are typically math, English, biology, or history majors.
  • Civil and mechanical engineering students who enroll in Physical Geology, Petroleum Geology, Geographic Information Systems, Hydrology, and Environmental Geology.
  • Students in "Earth Studies Concentration" This is a new program designed for students that become GIS professionals and geology technicians or seek an MBA or Law degree.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:

  1. Understand the principles and concepts of geology.
  2. 'Do geology' in unscripted situations using their knowledge, relevant field methods, computation, computer applications, and laboratory methods.
  3. Use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet, and communicate their work professionally--orally and in writing.
  4. Evaluate public and corporate geology-related polices that impact society and planet Earth.
  5. Use scientific and spiritual reasoning wisely.
  6. Be professional.

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:

National reports from AGI, University-level learning outcomes, discussions with our campus Scholarship of Learning and Teaching group, learning outcomes from similar departments, discussions with our Alumni Board.

How program goals are assessed

Each of our program-level outcomes is composed of a number of supporting outcomes. We use a spreadsheet to map all of the outcomes to the classes and experiences (e.g., field trips) where they are introduced, reinforced, and assessed. We use a holistic approach to assess program outcomes. (We do not typically identify separate assessments for each outcome.) We follow this pattern:

  1. Assess performance relative to our outcomes by collecting data,
  2. Analyze the data to identify strengths and weaknesses relative to program outcomes,
  3. Make plans to eliminate weaknesses, maintain strengths, and make overall improvement,
  4. Implement the plans and assess their effectiveness.
This looped process contains many cross-connecting elements. We are continuously involved in collecting, analyzing, and reacting to assessment data. We collect the following types of data:
  • Preparation, Assignment, Quiz, Test, & Project Grades from Courses. In our department, an 'A' means that the student is performing at a professional level, a 'B' indicates proficiency, and a 'C' means the student is unwilling to or incapable of performing at a professional level (and needs to change their behavior or change major).
  • Feedback of Instructors. Instructors of courses that rely on what students learned from their previous courses provide feedback in department meetings as to what students are 'taking with them' from their previous classes in terms of understanding and skills.
  • Student, Graduate-exit, and Alumni Interviews. Some of these interviews are formal, many are not. We receive feedback from our students in our classes and outside the classroom (e.g., during an advising visit or while we're traveling to a professional meeting or working on a research project). We interview each graduating senior in a formal exit interview. About every other year we conduct a formal telephone interview with selected alumni.
  • External Review of Program Performance. Our department advisory board is composed of representatives from academia and from the three industries in which most of our students work (i.e., petroleum, environmental, & mining).
  • National Norms. The American Geological Institute provides regular reports that describe the nationwide data on student, faculty, department, university, and employment characteristics and trends. These data are a key aspect of our assessment plan, as they provide external, industry-wide benchmarks and norms with which to calibrate our program.
  • Course Evaluations. These data provide subjective student feedback on courses and instructors. We find that "in the aggregate" they are useful.
  • Graduate school and job placement. These data demonstrate the level to which we are preparing students to succeed in the job market. We pay particular attention to any individual who desires to go to graduate school or work in the field but struggles to be accepted / employed, and to how our placement rates compare to those of our peers.
We analyze and react to these data in formal informal discussions. In our monthly department meeting we seek to understand the implications of the data, make plans for improvement, and discuss the effectiveness of the changes we have implemented.

Design features that allow goals to be met

In our Petrology class, for example, our B.S. students make the transition from 'being in college to take classes,' to 'being in college to prepare for a career.' From that point on, students' attitudes are typically more professional and focused. Field camp, field trips, and mentored research help to foster our students' abilities to "do" geology in unscripted situations.

Alumni Careers

Graduation rate

Year Graduates
2001 3
2002 3
2003 4
2004 12
2005 13
2006 7
2007 16
2008 9
2009 11
2010 26
2011 29
2012 32

Careers pursued by our alumni

Approximately 70% of our students are preparing for graduate school and then for jobs in the petroleum, environmental/engineering geology, mining, and hydrology industries. The remaining students work to become GIS professionals, are Earth Science education majors and minors who are working toward certification, or continue as Law students specializing in corporate or environmental law or to complete a Masters of Business administration with a focus on mining or petroleum business.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements

Other key features of this program:

  • We employ many students in our department as Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, and Lab Assistants. We are exploring how to provide Research Stipends for students who are involved in mentored research projects.
  • Our faculty teach three full semesters a year (Fall, Winter, and Spring), We teach 10-12 credits per semester for a total of 30 to 36 credit hours per year; mentoring student research on top of this load is daunting but very fulfilling.
  • We recently added a new program, Earth Studies Concentration. This program is part of a new interdisciplinary degree designed to help students who have a specific career path in mind and want to concentrate but not major in Geology. Students who follow this path couple their studies with a second area of emphasis (e.g. political science, business, computer science, environmental science, GIS, biology). Career paths they follow include GIS or Computer technician at a petroleum company, Law, and Business Management.