Initial Publication Date: June 10, 2019

Program/Department Development

Goals for change at the program/department level

  • Increase enrollment in geoscience courses
  • Increase success in geoscience and majors science courses
  • Increase the number of geoscience majors
  • Broaden participation in geoscience courses and major


In order to reach my goals I developed a series of both long and short-term activities based on the research conducted by Hosch & Bowie, 2010; Maltese & Tai, 2011; and O'Connell & Holmes, 2011 that aimed to qualify the factors influencing student willingness to major and persist in the sciences. With a long term goal of doubling the number of geoscience majors I created a three tiered program to address possible deficiencies in the student pipeline with respect to pre-college knowledge of geosciences, student success in majors courses, and knowledge of educational and career pathways.

Knowledge of the Geosciences

For the past 30 years, the percentage of high school students taking an Earth science course has never surpassed 25% whereas 90% of high school graduates have taken biology, and roughly 48% have taken chemistry. Although there are surely students who are interested in geoscience, the lack of exposure to these classes means student leave high school with a limited, if any, understanding of potential geoscience careers, educational opportunities, or the role of geoscientists within their community. To address this potential deficiency I developed new marketing materials that educated students about potential geoscience careers and their relationship to local communities, educational pathways available through the college, and the extracurricular activities and educational resources provided by the department. These materials are available in all main congregating areas of the building and in certain recruitment offices around campus. In addition to printed brochures I also developed a digital display in the main lobby of the building that highlights our students working in the many extracurricular programs offered in the department. The digital display also provides information regarding geoscience courses, club activities, available tutors, and faculty mentors. In addition to the program specific information, each section of the display begins with a Geoscience Spotlight that highlights the current work of our recent graduates.

Educational and Career Pathways

In addition to our on campus brochures and displays, with the help of additional funding I also developed a four-week summer program for prospective majors, graduating high school students, and secondary education teachers. During each week of the program, participants work with program staff and scientists from cooperating agencies to study firsthand the environmental issues being addressed by geologists, marine scientists, and atmospheric scientists within our communities. Through this program students and teachers gain direct knowledge of career availability and the importance/relevance of these jobs to the health and success of our local communities. Teacher participants are also expected to develop place-based classroom activities based on their own experience in the program. Collectively, the teachers who have participated in this program teach roughly 1,800 students annually.

In order to attract more current students to the program, as an advisor to the geology club I have worked with student leaders to increase club activities and provide programs that appeal to a wider range of student interests. Through these activities club leaders have created programs that demonstrate connections between the geosciences and art, computer science, astronomy, and chemistry. In addition to special program events faculty have donated food for weekly club meetings and social gatherings.

To better prepare geoscience majors for transfer I have also instituted a series of workshops that provide advanced skills training specifically designed for geoscience majors but open to the general student body. These training programs include topics such as Excel for scientific analysis, GIS, numerical weather prediction, and geophysical methods and are taught in cooperation with our local transfer institution and government agencies such as the USGS. Along with providing students with additional skill sets these programs also provide students the opportunity to work with university faculty and network with professional geoscientists.

Lastly, throughout the year, with the help of my colleague, I arrange campus visits with university faculty and program chairs. During these visits students learn about the internship opportunities available to them through our partnerships and also learn about specific program requirements and the skills they should focus on in order to be successful when they transfer.

Student Success

Assuming the additional marketing and recruitment strategies work, entering students need the resources necessary to not only be successful in our introductory geoscience course but also in all required science courses. To increase success in geoscience courses I have worked with program faculty to develop more effective classroom pedagogies that keep students actively engaged with course content in ways that help them develop working models of Earth systems. In addition, faculty have also incorporated metacognitive strategies that help students develop effective and efficient study skills and allow students to accurately determine how well they understand course content.

In addition to the enhanced pedagogies I have also instituted an in-class peer mentoring program. Through this program, student tutors work with first-year students in geology, marine science, and meteorology laboratory sections. During the lab sections peer mentors are able to help students with course specific skills and help instructors identify commons issues students are struggling with in class. Peer mentors also offer and arrange group study sessions and skill clinics.


Over the course of the last three years we have seen a dramatic change in geoscience program. Prior to making these changes, program enrollment was declining and we were struggling to offer upper level geology courses. Since making these changes we have experienced a significant increase in enrollment in all geoscience disciplines. Over this period total college enrollment has decreased roughly 10%. In contrast, enrollment in geology courses increased 61%, in meteorology 125%, and in marine science 15%. Across all geoscience disciplines, success rates have increased to match non-science courses. Although we still struggle to attract underrepresented minority populations, demographic data shows that a smaller proportion of students identify as White and we have reversed our gender demographics to approximately match that of the college community. Lastly, data from our local transfer institution shows a 15% increase in transfers to geoscience associated majors.


Hoisch, T. D., & Bowie, J. I. (2010). Assessing factors that influence the recruitment of majors from introductory geology classes at Northern Arizona University. Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(3), 166-176.

Maltese, A. V., & Tai, R. H. (2011). Pipeline persistence: Examining the association of educational experiences with earned degrees in STEM among U.S. students. Sci. Ed., 95(5), 877-907. doi:10.1002/sce.2044.

O'Connell, S., & Holmes, M. A. (2011). Obstacles to the recruitment of minorities into the geosciences: A call to action. GSA Today, 21(6), 52-54. doi:10.1130/g105gw.