MAKING GEOLOGY VISIBLE: BUILDING THE GEOSCIENCES AT A HISTORICALLY MINORITY UNIVERSITY
We successfully added geology to general education in Fall 2002 and have used growth to build the program. Annual geology credit hours have quintupled since spring 2001. General education enrollment has filled 94% of available seats since geology was added: we offered 510 seats of general education geology in 2005-06, 50% more than in any previous year and filled all but two sections, so we don’t know the true demand for introductory geology. We are attracting students although statistics show we are not easy graders. Full general education sections provide credit hour production that allow us to offer upper-level classes with enrollment below 6.
Earth science is required in North Carolina high schools, but the quality of instruction is limited because few high school teachers have much background. We have obtained a NSF education grant to improve earth science instruction in local high schools by tying elements of the course of study to basic groundwater data; this has increased our ties to science education.
Key to our success has been contributing in areas of administration focus. These include providing general education opportunities for students, support for science education, and attention to improving freshman success and ultimate retention.
At the upper level, development of a summer geology field trip allows advanced students to experience geology in more spectacular areas.
We have now built a large enough base that, in cooperation with the geographers, we are moving toward establishment of a broad geoscience major. Our experience shows that one geologist can make a difference in education at a minority-serving institution and create demand for expansion to a more comprehensive program. Other institutions seeking to make geology visible could follow this approach.