Initial Publication Date: July 10, 2019

Regional Network Development

Goals for changes in the regional network

Virginia is a state with a rich geologic history, a diverse geoscience workforce across both public and private sectors, and numerous geoscience academic departments at various four-year institutions and among the 23 campuses of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). We viewed the Faculty as Change Agents project as a unique opportunity to continue to build on prior work done through the SAGE 2YC initiative.

Our specific regional goals for this project were to:

  • Increase interactions among VCCS geoscience faculty.
  • Increase networking among academic geologists, professional geoscientists, and geology students in Virginia.


Based on our prior work running regional workshops, we knew attracting VCCS participants to our meetings would be a potential challenge. Time away from work and decreasing financial support for travel to external opportunities often stops VCCS faculty from participating in professional development. To increase interactions among VCCS geoscience faculty, we decided to adopt a strategy to be active participants at pre-existing VCCS meetings where there traditionally has not been a large geoscience presence. We did this in part because of inherent financial and logistical support for VCCS faculty to attend these meetings, but also to show our own support for the system offering this type of professional development for its faculty. The two opportunities we focused on consistently during this project were the biennial Science Peer Group meeting, and the annual New Horizons conference. For each meeting, we would submit our own abstracts or proposals, while also encouraging our VCCS geoscience peers to also submit abstracts. Additionally, after meeting schedules were in place, we would personally invite our peers to come participate in the meeting via email. For the 2016 VCCS Science Peer Group meeting, we worked with the planning team to cluster all geology presentations on one afternoon so we could lead a field trip on the following day to discuss strategies for teaching in the field. We then paired up with Cohort 2 team members to facilitate discussions with four-year college geoscience faculty at the 2018 Science Peer Group meeting. Also in 2018, we ran two sessions at New Horizons on applying Bloom's taxonomy to active learning strategies and creating quality classroom assignments that are better at assessing course outcomes while maintaining alignment to course objectives.

Given our success with the strategy of piggy-backing on previously existing structures for the 2016 VCCS Science Peer Group meeting, we decided to take advantage of the Virginia Geological Field Conference (VGFC) for our 2017 and 2018 regional workshops. The VGFC is an annual weekend field trip for professional and academic geoscientists across the state to come together to spend some time in the field while discussing some of the latest research on a physiographic province of Virginia. Historically, the conference attendants are primarily academic and professional geologists, with a few graduate students, and even fewer undergraduates thrown in the mix. In 2016, Pete and Karen served as two of the co-leaders of the field conference, and we all encouraged our students to participate. This is a fantastic chance for two-year college students to not only interact with other two-year and four-year college students, but also to network with a variety of geoscientists and to gain more field experience. In an attempt to encourage more student attendance and highlight geoscience careers, we ran a career mentoring workshop in advance of the 2017 VGFC. We invited a group of six, diverse professional geologists who are our personal contacts to participate in reviewing student resumes and a panel discussion on daily work responsibilities, their educational backgrounds, and more. We initiated the conversation with questions we asked the panelists to respond to in advance, and the students provided many diverse questions of their own. At the end of the sessions, all parties agreed that it was an afternoon well spent, so in Fall 2018, we ran the workshop again. During this second workshop, we used a geoscientist "speed-dating" model, where students rotated among eight professionals to have small group conversations.


Our efforts to increase interactions among VCCS geoscience faculty have been moderately successful. We were able to bring together 17 geoscience faculty from 8 of the VCCS schools at our 2016 peer group meeting with the field trip—geologists want to see the rocks! We have not been able to get the same traction at the New Horizons meeting and it is not particularly clear why that is. It likely may have to do with the lack of significant discipline specific discussion; even if our team presents, that is only a session or two over a two-day conference. However, Karen will be working with a member of the Cohort 2 Virginia team and other VCCS colleagues on developing an OER text for Historical Geology in the next few years, and the creation of this team was, in part, due to interactions fostered by participation in these SAGE 2YC-related events.

At our 2017 VGFC career mentoring workshop, 19 students participated in discussion (8 of these students were from two-year colleges) with 6 scheduled professionals. Three additional professionals who were attending the conference heard about the event and joined in the panel discussion, too. For the 2018 VGFC workshop, we had 8 professional mentors and 11 students, who were all from two-year colleges. Based on evaluation feedback, students who participated appreciated hearing about the diverse applications of geoscience, and were surprised to hear about how much on-the-job learning and training happens. The professionals enjoyed the opportunity to share their experiences with students--many commented they wished they had more exposure to various geoscience options earlier in their careers. The leaders of the VGFC have been excited about the increased student involvement in the meeting. As workshop facilitators, we found it to be incredibly exciting to see the interactions in the rooms, not only among students and professionals, but also among the two-year and four-year college students. These social interactions seemed to pave the way for more engagement during the pre-field trip socials, and on the field trips as well. Perhaps most exciting of all was a geoscientist who came to VGFC 2018 told us she found her position through networking at the 2017 workshop! Karen has had additional success tapping into this network of professional geologists for other career sharing interactions. For example, her students have interviewed some of these scientists about their careers, and these folks have contacted her to participate in informal STEM education events.