Report from Building Strong Geoscience Departments

published Jun 11, 2010 4:42pm

by Carol Ormand, SERC

Over the past year, the Building Strong Geoscience Departments program has run a series of visiting workshops and has expanded its web resources in our continuing effort to share successful strategies across the geoscience community.

Visiting Workshops

In 2009-2010, we initiated the Visiting Workshop program (, bringing the knowledge gained from the Building Strong Geoscience Departments project to 10 geoscience departments across North America. These departments are at institutions including major research universities, regional universities, and liberal arts colleges, with department sizes ranging from 3 to more than 40 faculty members. Departments were selected via a highly competitive application process; we had 25 applications for these workshops.

Prior to each workshop, two workshop leaders worked with members of the department to explore the department's current strengths and challenges and to develop the workshop program. Despite the variability of department sizes and institutional settings, we found that many departments were facing similar challenges and had similar questions and concerns. During the workshops, the workshop leader team used a number of exercises and activities to help department members think strategically about their particular strengths and challenges, to come to consensus about how to approach those challenges, and to develop an action plan to move forward. Activities departments most often cited as helpful in clarifying their thinking were

In addition, each workshop featured a brief "tour" of resources on the Building Strong Geoscience Departments website, focusing on topics of interest to that department. Every department was interested in knowing what other departments are doing; the go-to place for this is the "Collections and Case Studies" section of the website.

Expanded Web Resources

Collections & Case Studies:

Our "collections and case studies" page is simply that: a page of links to all of the collections and case studies on our site. These include curricula, course descriptions, mission/vision statements, student learning goals/outcomes, program assessment planning documents and instruments, interviews with geoscience employers and employees, recruitment strategies, recruitment posters, and more. Explore these collections to see what others are doing, and please contribute something from your own department: you could be the example everyone else is looking for.

Making a Case for Your Department:

In these times of economic hardship, departments across North America are being asked to justify their existence. We've gathered a set of resources that we hope will help departments to make their cases to their institutions: resources to help you

  • Explain the societal value of geoscience education;
  • Become a valued member of your institution; and
  • Make your case, if your department is in danger of being dismantled.

In addition, we have two case studies of how geoscience departments are responding to institutional changes, and we plan to add case studies to this collection over the summer.

Both the Visiting Workshop program and the Building Strong Geoscience Departments website are designed to share successful strategies for strengthening geoscience departments. These resources are particularly critical in difficult times; please share them with your colleagues.