2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 9:45 AM


SIMPSON, Carol, Department of Earth Sciences, Boston Univ, 685 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215-1406 and MURRAY, Richard W., Dept. of Earth Sciences, Boston Univ, Boston, MA 02215, csimpson@bu.edu

Boston University has developed a modern, energetic Earth Sciences department that excels in its research and teaching mission. Revitalization began in 1994 with a renaming of the original Geology department and the recruitment of an external Chair a year later. In less than 8 years we created a moderately-sized program (9.5 full time faculty and 3 research faculty) that is competing with "Top Ten" institutions for graduate students and faculty, and which places its undergraduates in leading graduate programs. Most of the revitalization was achieved over an initial 5-year period, during which we upgraded our curriculum and recruited junior and mid-level faculty on the basis of their scholarly abilities and for their belief in the culture of our new mission and program.

The undergraduate curriculum, previously oriented toward traditional geology courses, was expanded and redesigned to be less ‘traditional’ and to allow flexibility within the broad field of earth sciences. Program rigor was increased to include a full year each of calculus, physics, and chemistry. Undergraduates became involved in the research mission through senior theses, work-study in labs, and participation in the BU Undergraduate Research Opportunities program. By making the program more challenging, within 3 years we doubled the number of majors and minors and increased the average GPA by 0.5 units. By 2003 we had nearly tripled our overall number of students and significantly improved quality and intellectual diversity.

Replacement of departing senior faculty and addition of new positions was achieved by effectively arguing to central administration that modern earth sciences are an essential component of higher education. We welcomed faculty with quantitative approaches to earth sciences and did not simply duplicate departing expertise, but created an integrated program based on scientific methodology. As a result, our research productivity (external grants and journal citations) has increased by an order-of-magnitude, with each faculty member now supporting 2-3 graduate students. In under a decade, the department changed direction, dramatically increased student numbers and quality, and gained a national and international stature that continues to serve as a stimulus for further gains.