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Shaping the Future of Geoscience

As the field of geoscience changes and grows, what undergraduates need to learn and the methods of teaching must change to prepare students for the challenges ahead.

With this in mind, the Jackson School of Geosciences hosted the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education in January 2014.

The three-day summit, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, brought together a broad spectrum of the national undergraduate geoscience education community. These included about 200 educators from R1 research universities with undergraduate programs, four-year private and state colleges and two-year community colleges. Representatives from industry and professional geoscience societies also attended. The summit focused on three main topics:

1. What content, competencies and skills do undergraduates need to be successful in graduate school and the future workforce?

2. What are the best ways to teach and use technology to enhance student learning?

3. How can we broaden participation and retention of underrepresented groups and prepare K-12 science teachers to build a robust, diverse and informed future geoscience workforce?

The challenges are significant. About 143,000 geoscientists in the workforce are expected to retire by 2022 and there is predicted to be a 14 percent increase in new geoscience jobs over that same period, according to a 2014 report from the American Geosciences Institute. Yet, the report notes fewer than 30 percent of high school students take earth science in high school and only four states require the course for graduation.

And as the field expands, geoscientists need to be more well-rounded than ever.

“Geoscience research has changed, and it will continue to change and grow,” said Sharon Mosher, Dean of the Jackson School. “Our research now is very interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary. This means our students need to not only have strengths in their own disciplines, they also need to be able to work across discipline boundaries and work with people who don’t think like them and who don’t have the same background.”

The summit made major progress toward developing a collective community vision for undergraduate geoscience education. A summary report and webcast is available at www.jsg.utexas.edu/events/future-of-geoscience-undergraduate-education.