University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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April 2, 2004


UW-RF Geology Program 'Rocked' by Changes
By Sarah Matara
UW-RF News Bureau

When most people think of geology, the subjects of ethics, professional development or service-learning probably don't come to mind. But those subjects are very much on the minds of UW-River Falls geology faculty, who are making them an integral part of the geology program.

"These were three things we weren't doing well enough," said Robert Baker, chairperson of the geology department. Baker will present the department's new curriculum at the 38th annual meeting of the North-Central Section of the Geological Society of America in St. Louis April 1-2. Several UW-RF students, along with about 400 geoscientists, will also attend.

Professor Ian Williams says that while the topics of ethics, professional development and service-learning may emerge in other classes, those subjects have not been an integral part of any specific course. "We all thought someone else was dealing with it in their courses," Williams said.

Many students are active in community projects, in campus discussion groups, or at professional conferences, but some do not take advantage of these experiences. "We want to catch the students who are hurting themselves by not becoming engaged," Professor Mike Middleton said.

To meet the new professional development requirement, students must attend one professional geology-related conference, such as the Institute for Lake Superior Geology or the Minnesota Ground Water Association

. Students must also attend a day-long conference or field trip. Also required is attending a minimum of three visiting-scientist or faculty professional talks held at UW-RF or a comparable institution.

Both Williams and Baker note frustration with student attendance at such events in the past. "Only a third of the people you expect to go show up," Williams said. "It's good role-modeling for our students to see professionals giving good talks."

The geology faculty believes attending these events is important because it will be a part of students' future careers and is an excellent way to network with professionals and possibly find internships.

"There are sessions going on in all aspects of geology," Baker said. "Students can connect with professionals, graduate schools, or anyone in the field."

Students must complete eight hours of volunteer activities for the service-learning requirement. Opportunities to fulfill this need range from sandbagging flooded areas and making displays at rock and mineral shows to mentoring other students or helping with Earth Week activities.

Along with the service-learning portion of the curricula, students must complete and document two job explorations, such as spending a day with a geoscience professional or a geoscience-related organization. For example, a student could spend a day at the Geology Natural History Survey or at a gold mine in Nevada. Other options include informational interviewing, attending career workshops, working at an internship or analyzing graduate school programs.

Ethics will be integrated into the sophomore seminar and senior research experience. Professors will cover research, field and professional ethics, such as accurate data reporting, asking permission before exploring land, or knowing when to release earthquake warnings so as not to unnecessarily alarm the public.

Students will compile a portfolio from the experiences in the new program requirements. Faculty members said the portfolio will give students an edge in the job market. "We want to promote student responsibility," said Middleton. "They will graduate with a portfolio documenting what they've done."

Faculty members hope that getting geology students out in the community will make the program more visible and give the public a better understanding of what geoscientists do.

"There has been a misconception by the public of science. No one knows what academics do," Middleton said. "Some people believe that science is done by bespectacled people in white coats. We're not just academics in the ivory tower."

Professors Bill Cordua and Kerry Keen have also been involved with the planning of the new program.

For more information about the program, contact Baker at 715/425-3345.

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