2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:15 AM


PETERS, Stephen C. and ZEITLER, Peter K., Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, 31 Williams Dr, Bethlehem, PA 18015, Iceland, scp2@lehigh.edu

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Lehigh University has restructured our curriculum in order to attract more and more diverse undergraduate majors. Over the past decade, our department has met distribution needs for ~750 students per year, providing ~75% of the science-distribution credits required by Lehigh undergraduates. However, despite contact with a large audience, the number of majors in our B.A. degree in EES and B.S. degrees in ecology, geology, and environmental science has declined from some 100 students in the mid-1990's to about 40 students in recent years.

Existing EES majors stated that they preferred studying specific topics in depth, rather than skating across a broad survey, so we changed our introductory sequence to favor depth instead of breadth, at the same time reducing class size to a maximum of 40 students. Some departments have done this for two decades with good results (e.g. Hamilton College). Entry to the major now occurs through any of a suite of topical, small-enrollment, in-depth courses. Examples include Forensic Geology, Lands of the Midnight Sun, Geology of War, Natural Hazards, and Energy: Origins, Impacts, and Options. In each case, the instructor does not expect prior knowledge from students, nor are these courses mandated to cover topics in preparation for future courses in the major. The course objective is simply to get students excited and engaged in Earth and Environmental Science. These courses do not have lab sections, but instead, a stand-alone lab course and a stand-alone discussion course are available in parallel to constitute a full 4-credit load.

For newly declared majors, the next step is a two-semester required sequence designed to build community among students subsequent to their diverse paths into the major. These two courses focus on two fundamental concepts: the earth as a system, and the evolution of earth and life. All other courses in the major are electives, and students have freedom to pursue courses and topics in their fields of interest. We do require seniors to enroll in a seminar that gives them experience in synthesizing information and working with diverse viewpoints.

These changes reshape the traditional major “funnel” to resemble more of an “hourglass,” while also providing a parallel conduit for high-volume non-science major education.