2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 9:30 AM


TEWKSBURY, Barbara J., Dept of Geosciences, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY 13323-1218, btewksbu@hamilton.edu

Hamilton College is a small private undergraduate liberal arts college with about 1700 matriculated students. The Department of Geosciences is comparatively large for the size of the institution. We have 5.5 faculty FTEs and have graduated between 12 and 20 majors per year over the past 8 years. Two factors that we believe have contributed to our success in recruiting geoscience majors include our introductory curriculum and our philosophy of encouraging students to major in geoscience even if they plan on careers outside the geosciences.

Twenty years ago, we adopted an introductory course curriculum that abandoned a survey approach to physical and historical geology and offers instead a series of narrow and deep topical courses that provide an opportunity for students to delve deeply enough into a topic to do something meaningful instead of learning a little about many topics. To insure some common preparation for subsequent courses, we have all agreed to cover rock forming processes, geologic time, plate tectonics, and Earth systems in one way or another. We accept the fact that students, who are permitted to take only one of our intro courses for credit, will bring varied backgrounds into our mid-level courses. The courses are engaging and attractive to students and have been significant recruiting tools. Yields of majors and minors from individual courses typically ranges from 10-30%, allowing us to keep courses reasonable in size (16-40 students)and still recruit enough majors for the program.

For many years, we have also promoted a departmental philosophy that encourages students to think of the geosciences as a liberal arts major, as well as a path to a career in geoscience. In this respect, our departmental philosophy parallels that of departments in the humanities and social sciences (how many philosophy majors, for example, go on to be professional philosophers??). Even though we offer a strong major with rigorous courses and a required senior project, we have designed the curriculum with flexible supporting science/math requirements and a broad senior project. We are also scrupulous about treating all students equally, regardless of career trajectory. This has enabled us to recruit students who have interests in geoscience but whose career paths lie in law, medicine, business, public policy, teaching and so on.