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Future of Geoscience Education Initiatives

One of the goals in the 2018 Jackson School of Geosciences Strategic Plan is to provide national leadership in geoscience education. To that end, the Jackson School is involved in two national efforts sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, a national initiative that Dean Sharon Mosher has been spearheading since 2014, is nearing completion. A document entitled “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Geoscience Education: A Call to Action” is being produced that will encapsulate all results and outcomes of this initiative and will be published in partnership with the American Geosciences Institute. This initiative developed a community vision for undergraduate geoscience education through input from geoscience employers and academics from across the country. It identified concepts, skills and competencies needed by undergraduate geoscience students to prepare them for the future workforce and best practices for achieving these outcomes. Programs across the country have begun implementing this community vision and are developing best practices for curricular and program change. The vision and change document will serve as a catalysis for change and provide a roadmap of proven pathways to success.

Building on the success of the undergraduate initiative, the National Science Foundation has funded Dean Mosher for an initiative to investigate the skills and competencies that should be an essential part of graduate geoscience education to prepare students for a wide variety of career options, and the best means for developing these in programs nationally. Most master’s and doctoral students do not become academics when they graduate, and many that do are employed at institutions where research is only a small part of their responsibilities, if at all. However, the focus of geoscience graduate programs is on research, mentoring and instruction of students and on developing intellectual depth and strength within a subdiscipline. By becoming experts in a specific subfield and having highly developed research skills, graduate students are placed on a path toward an academic career at a research institution where this kind of specialization is sought and rewarded. The goal of this new initiative is to change this dynamic so that graduate students are prepared for academic, government, industry and/or consulting or other employment.

The first workshop with geoscience employers was in October 2018, with over 50 employer representatives from across all branches of the geosciences, including Earth, atmosphere and ocean sciences. The next step is to engage department heads, chairs, graduate program directors and advisors from across the country to raise awareness of the critical skills and competencies for geoscience doctoral and master’s graduates and to find ways to implement the development of these skills and competencies into their graduate programs.