Initial Publication Date: June 8, 2017

Strengthening Career Preparation Across Programs

SAGE 2YC: Support Geoscience
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Preparing your students for their future careers isn't something you can do once and just check it off. Done well, it's an integral part of their education. Many different aspects of their experience - inside and outside of the classroom - can contribute to your students' professional preparation. From advising and internships to seminars and innovative curricula, the opportunities to distribute workforce preparation throughout programs are numerous and varied.

Jump Down To: Making Strong Connections Between Course Content and Career Skills | Integrating Professional Preparation into your Program

Talk to Students About Geoscience Careers

The first and most fundamental part of preparing students for careers is making sure they know about them. Many students are unfamiliar with the opportunities available to those with expertise in geoscience. Sometimes students have a negative perception of the geosciences as a whole, thinking that the available jobs are low status and low paying. Providing information about the wide array of important things that people do with geoscience knowledge (engineering, architecture, environmental management...) will help them visualize themselves making a good living in an interesting career they didn't even know existed.

SAGE 2YC: Geoscience Degrees and Careers InTeGrate: Understand Workforce Needs Strong Geo Departments: Professional Preparation

Making Strong Connections Between Course Content and Career Skills

Two-year college students have a keen focus on their college education as a means to obtain a steady and secure job. This trend is particularly strong among first-generation students. (Learn more about the motivations of first-generation 2YC students.) Thus, it can be helpful to tie course content to job skills and career goals, so students can see how their coursework is directly related to their larger aspirations. Even students who do not intend to continue in the geosciences will benefit from the topics and approaches they learn in geoscience courses. These relationships may not be readily apparent to students, so it can be helpful to emphasize career connections throughout the course. Research projects can be very powerful in helping students make and reinforce those connections.

Another benefit of this approach is that you can share insights about career pathways in the geosciences and how those careers relate to the concepts in class. Students may not be aware of the wide array of jobs in geoscience fields. The What do geoscientists do? page illustrates a variety of career possibilities and lists degree requirements and potential earnings for different jobs.

Here are some examples that highlight how skills taught in an introductory geoscience course are tied to on-the-job performance in many different fields.

  • Quantitative skills, such as using Excel, reading and making graphs, understanding numerical scale (such as very large or very small numbers), and using unit conversions are important in many fields. Students who are interested in accounting, business, or management can take comfort in knowing that measuring stream discharge or calculating vertical exaggeration builds quantitative dexterity that can be transferred to many different jobs. In the geosciences, professionals in nearly every aspect of the field will rely on quantitative thinking, from understanding concentrations of chemicals in water samples, to determining the amount of rainfall needed to fill a reservoir, to checking the budget for a proposed mine reclamation project.
  • Geoscience and environmental challenges are often interdisciplinary, and the ability to gather information from multiple sources is a hallmark of geoscientific teaching. Students who are able to synthesize information, find trends, and consider various points of view will be equipped to tackle multidisciplinary problems like land management, energy supplies, and hazard mitigation. Outside the geosciences, students comfortable with information synthesis will be well positioned to apply those same skills in journalism, communications, management, and any job that requires working as part of a team.

Teaching Tip:
Infuse your course with examples of how the course content overlaps with geoscience careers. For example, use brief video clips or blogs that show a glimpse of the lives of professional geologists, like this series from a day in the GeoLife.
  • Visualization and spatial skills, such as interpreting cross-sections, maps, gradients, and schematic renderings are inherent in the geosciences. These skills are in demand in the fields of engineering, architecture, community planning, and information design. Within the geosciences, spatial and visualization skills are needed for jobs that involve mapping, GIS, weather and climate, and characterizing things that are underground (ore bodies, contaminant plumes, aquifers) or are too large or too small to observe directly.
  • A sustainability mindset is becoming prevalent in business, manufacturing, development, planning, and economics. Not only that, new careers in sustainability are emerging, such as clean energy technologies, resource management, and carbon capture and storage. Learn more about the job outlook in emerging energy and sustainability.

  • Media and information literacy has become an important skill when teaching current events and controversial topics like climate change. In the context of using Internet sources to research environmental issues, students can learn important lessons in examining sources of information, separating data from interpretation, recognizing bias, and understanding how worldview shapes public opinion on controversial issues (Cooper, 2011). These skills are relevant for just about every field, and can help anyone become an agile participant in today's digital world.
Teaching tip:
Early in the semester, instructors can point out how topics, labs, and assignments are related to career skills. As the course proceeds, ask students where they see connections between course content and their intended career path.
  • Computer skills are embedded in the geosciences and most other fields. Fluency with word processing, spreadsheets, document layout, presentations, and web/media access are essential in many jobs, from real estate sales to petroleum exploration. Nomi (2005) found that computer skills are high on the list of skills sought by first-generation 2YC students.
  • "Soft skills" – the ability to communicate and work with people, adaptability, and dependability are among the personal skills that are universally appreciated by employers. These skills can be developed by group work and by using both short-term and longer-term assignments that emphasize time management and accountability.

Integrate Professional Preparation into your Program

This page from the Building Strong Geoscience Departments project showcases examples of what different institutions are doing to strengthen the professional preparation of their students in an intentional way. These presentations are all from faculty at four-year colleges and universities, but there are valuable ideas to be gleaned from them that can apply to two-year institutions.