The UConn Board of Trustees approved this week the creation of a new department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Department of Geosciences gives a modern edge to an age-old discipline, bringing research and education about the Earth and its atmosphere to UConn undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty alike.
The move will position the Department to “immediately raise the reputation of UConn for their vision in expanding a STEM field, offering research and preparation for societal needs,” according to an external program review in April 2018.
“A cornerstone of any land-grant university is a rigorous program in the Earth sciences,” says Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Craig Kennedy. “This new Department of Geosciences will build on UConn’s legacy of excellence in this field, making the Department a leader among its peers.”
Geosciences faculty conduct research on and teach courses related to water, energy, climate change, natural resources, oceans and coasts, mountain building, mass extinction, landscape change, and life at the extremes of the Earth and beyond.
Incoming Department Head Lisa Park Boush says these areas of expertise are not only building blocks for successful careers, but essential for economic development and responsible policymaking.
“Geosciences is a fast-growing field, and UConn’s expertise in this area is growing faster still,” says Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Davita Silfen Glasberg. “The Department of Geosciences will serve our students and researchers with new opportunities in Storrs and around the world.”
More than 1,000 undergraduate students enroll in introductory geoscience courses annually, and more than 50 students are currently majoring in geosciences. The program’s curriculum underwent a redesign in recent years, creating several pathways to the major that emphasize general geology, Earth and life history through deep time, geologic hazards, and the evolution of the American landscape.
The Department will continue to offer its popular education abroad programs in Taiwan, the Bahamas, the western U.S., and Italy. These programs, offered during the semester, during intersession, and during the summer, give undergraduate and graduate students hands-on experience in field geology.
The program has operated as the Center for Integrative Geosciences since 2004, and Park Boush says the growing prominence of the Center created momentum for the change.
“Our increasingly successful bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs, state-of-the-art laboratories, and internationally recognized faculty have given us an excellent reputation,” she notes.
Undergraduate alumni of the program have a greater than 95 percent placement rate in geoscience-related jobs, including environmental geology, hydrology, public policy, city planning, and mining and petroleum careers, says Park Boush. Graduate alumni work in academia, in related industries, or federal and state government jobs.
“It’s a good time to be a geoscience major – there are forecasts that geoscientists will be in demand in the next 10 years,” she says.
The Department’s research portfolio will center around three areas in modern geoscience.
Several faculty study Earth surface processes, such as climate change and geomicrobiology, which is the study of microscopic life that aids the in the creation of minerals. Plate tectonics and mountain building are a second focus, with an important emphasis on how and when earthquakes occur. Finally, a group of faculty study landscape evolution, such as erosion, hydrology, and coastal environments.
The Department’s formation will increase the program’s prominence and eligibility for federal funding, which will help its faculty earn research funding from national agencies, says Park Boush.
The fourteen faculty members affiliated with the program have received a collective $14.3 million in external research funding since 2009, including two NSF Early Career (CAREER) Awards to Assistant Professor Michal Hren and Associate Professor Will Ouimet; and a National Science Foundation grant of more than $700,000 to Assistant Professor Julie Fosdick to establish a regional geochronology facility.
Park Boush, who has led the Center for Integrative Geosciences since 2014, says this outcome has been the result of four years of hard work by her faculty
“Our main goal is to build as strong a program as we possibly can,” says Park Boush. “I am really excited to unleash our potential as a Department. It’s a new day for geosciences at UConn.”
By: Christine Buckley, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences