Programs Preparing Students to Address Societal Issues
Building a workforce that can address the grand challenges facing society requires programs that equip our students with the necessary skills to tackle complex issues that transcend traditional boundaries of academic disciplines. Because these critical issues impact all parts of our society, this workforce will need to be diverse, reflecting the communities that make up our nation. It will require skilled technical workers, scientists, engineers, communications specialists, and policymakers, all of whom can foster thinking that is geared toward addressing interdisciplinary problems. To create this workforce, degree programs in higher education will need to adapt and change. The resources below include descriptions of programs that integrate geoscience and societal issues across the curriculum, discussions of workforce needs, and materials to support the design or redesign of educational programs.
In 2007, the Building Strong Geoscience Departments project ran a workshop on connecting geoscience departments to the future of science. One very clear outcome from that workshop was the consensus that the geosciences have an essential role to play in building a workforce that can tackle the grand challenges facing our society and our world. This message was the focus of Eric Barron's keynote address, A Perspective on the Next 25 Years, and was echoed throughout the remainder of the workshop.
What skills will geoscience students need? Above all, these students will need to develop a thorough understanding of the societal issues and will have to be able to solve problems in interdisciplinary contexts. Given the scope of the problems, key skills include
- the ability to collaborate across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including working with policymakers;
- the ability to apply systems thinking to make predictions, including predictions of the consequences of human actions;
- the ability to think like a geoscientist, including the ability to work with authentic data, deal with uncertainty, reason quantitatively, develop models and understand their limitations, and think spatially;
- and the ability to communicate with experts in a wide range of disciplines.
Learn more about Connecting Geoscience Departments to the Future of Science.
Designing or Redesigning a Program to Integrate Geoscience and Societal Issues
one method of program design drawing on resources from our 2012 workshop.
Interdisciplinary Programs Addressing Sustainability
Programs that focus on preparing students to solve interdisciplinary environmental and resource problems and to address issues of sustainability also bring together geoscience and societal issues. Programs in environmental science, environmental studies, and sustainability already make use of this design by emphasizing the skills their students develop for addressing the complex interdisciplinary problems that characterize many of the grand challenges we face. New interdisicplinary degree programs (for example geoscience and policy) as well as a new emphasis on geoscience in traditional undergraduate majors (e.g. business) are rapidly emerging in response to changes in workforce needs and students interests. Read more about programs that bring together geoscience and sustainability: resources from our 2012 workshop of the same name.