Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-5:30 PM
REBUILDING A GEOSCIENCE PROGRAM IN THE MIDST OF LOW COMPLETION RATES AND HURRICANES
Geosciences at the University of New Orleans have gone through multiple boom and bust trends since the founding of the Department of Earth Science in 1958. Between 1975 and 1985 the boom in the hydrocarbon industry, led by geologists and geophysicists, resulted in a name change to the Department of Geology and Geophysics. This was also a period with peak enrollments and graduations. Between 1985 and 1995 however, enrollments and graduations plummeted along with the price of oil. In fall of 2004 the Department was identified by the Louisiana Board of Regents as a low completer program. This meant that on average 5, or fewer, undergraduates were finishing their degrees each year out of a running average of 50 majors. Moreover, students were requiring an average of 5 to 7 years of classwork to finish. In response, our faculty assessed the situation through student discussions, informal questionnaires, and sharing personal knowledge of student problems. The outcome was the recognition that non completion and extended degree lengths were linked to our unique urban setting with: 1) many non-traditional students who have family obligations, 2) students working full time, and 3) students ill prepared in high school for the rigor of classes such as Calculus and Structural Geology. A faculty-based decision was to rename to the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and develop curriculum concentrations (e.g. Geology, Coastal Science, Environmental Science), which could provide students a variety of directions that they could pursue on the basis of their interest and ability. In the midst of this reorganization Hurricane Katrina made landfall. With faculty and students scattered throughout the country, on-campus classes reopened for the Spring 06 semester. Despite University downsizing arising from the hurricane, the curriculum changes ensured the Departments survival because of the local need for coastal scientists as well as petroleum geologists.