UB Geology Department’S Redesigned Curriculum to Debut In Fall

Release Date: January 27, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Department of Geology has developed a new, more rigorous undergraduate curriculum designed to appeal more to students through an increased emphasis on environmental applications and better integration of the diverse topics students must study in order to practice in the field today.

Freshman geology majors who demonstrated exceptional performance in their high school earth science classes will be able to advance directly to second-year courses.

The department also has introduced changes that for select students make research begun in their senior year applicable to a master's-degree thesis.

The only piece of the old curriculum that remains is the requirement that majors spend a month at UB's Geology Field Camp conducting field work in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah.

While some components of the new curriculum have been introduced to current majors, the program will be implemented in its entirety in September.

The new curriculum requires students to become more proficient in quantitative skills. It also requires less rote memorization by students and more of an integrated understanding of geological principles and concepts.

"This was a huge effort involving every faculty member and it resulted in our throwing out almost every single course and starting over from scratch," said John Fountain, Ph.D., professor of geology and chair of the curriculum committee.

"It has resulted not only in increasing the amount of material covered in each course and eliminating duplication throughout the curriculum, but also in making the program more appealing to undergraduates by strengthening the environmental examples used to illustrate processes and principles," he said.

The increased emphasis on environmental issues reflects what is happening in the profession, explained Michael Sheridan, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Geology.

"The science of geology is becoming more oriented toward societal issues and problems, such as global warming and how to use resources, and risk assessment and mitigation of hazards, such as volcanoes, earthquakes and floods," he said. "We are teaching students to look at the earth as a network of systems that are interrelated, and that interact in ways that affect our lives."

The new curriculum replaces traditional, semester-long courses that focused on a single subject, such as mineralogy or paleontology, with year-long courses that integrate several topics and cover them in greater detail. Each course is designed to build on the foundation provided by the previous course.

Subjects previously covered in elective courses, such as geochemistry, geophysics and hydrology, will be covered in these expanded, required courses.

"The traditional curriculum was information-based," Sheridan explained. "In our new curriculum, we decided to look at a problem- or inquiry-based curriculum. Instead of treating all the information as important, such as memorizing the names and characteristics of all rocks, we will expect students to understand the processes that lead to rock formation and then to be able to apply that understanding to solving problems."

The new program is expected to better prepare students for work on the master's degree.

Undergraduates participating in the University Honors Program who major in geology will benefit if they decide to enroll in the UB Master's of Arts degree program, since their required senior research can become the groundwork for their master's-degree thesis.

"This is where students at UB have a clear advantage," Sheridan added. "Many of our undergraduates can become directly involved in research of national or international importance."

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