GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 74-11
Presentation Time: 4:25 PM


MCKAY, Larry D., Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1410

One of the major challenges facing many geoscience departments is how to prepare an effective and attractive curriculum for undergraduate students with diverse career interests, while also providing for those intending to pursue traditional geoscience careers. This is especially important as increasing numbers of students enter 4-year geoscience programs via transfers from community colleges or other university science programs. Traditional programs emphasize development of core bodies of knowledge and specific skill sets, delivered through ancillary math and science courses, required upper level majors courses, and a five week field camp. These programs tend to have very little room for elective courses outside the major, for research credit hours, or for study abroad activities, all of which are highly valued by employers and graduate programs. This also makes it difficult for students who transfer into the major from community colleges or other science majors to complete their degree in four years. One solution is for geoscience programs to expand their offerings to include options based on the model of a Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) education. LAS programs emphasize personal development, critical thinking, communicating, exploring, and diversity. They have more flexibility and tend to attract more students than programs with highly prescribed curricula. Graduates from LAS programs go on to diverse careers, often with great success. At the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, our geoscience undergraduate program has concentrations in traditional geology and in environmental studies (ES) – a program that requires students select five upper level geology courses, but with fewer required geology courses and other science prerequisites. This allows for much greater flexibility and the retention of many attributes of a classic LAS program. Enrollment in the geology concentration is cyclic and currently declining, whereas ES has shown steady growth. This may be partly due to large increases in transfer students, who now make up about half of our incoming majors. Offering an LAS alternative curriculum also requires changes in the faculty, including the willingness to exhibit more flexibility in their courses and to engage with majors who do not intend to pursue a geoscience career.